Lead Business in North America
note: some spelling is from the time period.
or pewter articles were in everyday use when European
first arrived in the New World and in a short period of
time was passed on to the local Indians as gifts or used
as barter in a trade. The introduction of the firearm made
lead an extremely important trade item and would continue
for centuries in the settlements, forts, trading posts and
on the frontier.
the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, guns for trade were not standardized and became
customary for one to buy a mold with the purchase of the
gun. Sites in New York and western Pennsylvania dating
from 1660-87 have produced single cavity ball molds, bar
lead - some crude flat bars with stamped lettering, yet
others found with beveled edges with raised lettering
where fancy for the time, weighting from a small 6-7 oz (HBC
C. bar) to the heavy 2 pound bars.
Bay Company records list large shipments of shot to
Hudson's Bay in the period 1687-1740, then again in the
1763-1791 time frame, included in the later shipments were
three sizes of bars marked [HBC a.], [HBC b.], and the
small [HBC c.] bar. The "a." bar was usually
moved to forts or settlements close to water travel do to
its weight of 65-75 pounds (referred to as a "pig of
lead"), used for ballast in the bottom of ships and
then melted into smaller bars for the trade, "b"
bars where of the 20-25 pounds size and have been found
inland, probably carried by horse or smaller water craft
such as a canoe or flat bottom boat, and again melted to a
smaller size. The [HBC c.] bar - the most popular because
of its size (6-7 oz), perfect to be carried in ones
equipage, found in possible bags with a single ball mold -
seen in a number of museums throughout North America,
probably due to it's size and availability for such a long
brass molds for a variety of sizes of shot, and round ball
were common among the settlers and some eventually passed
to the Indians. In1648 Bradford wrote from the Plymouth
Plantation, "They [the Indians] have also their
moulds to make shotte, of all sorts, as Musket bullets,
pistoll bullets, swane and gose shotte, and smaler
1750 the trade had spread around the Great Lakes and into
central Canada, with standardized guns like the Northwest
gun, molded balls began to become more popular than
molding one's own and the supply of bar lead slowed
leaving the shot as the big money maker in the business.
Molded bars were still a significant trade item in many of
the colonies and on the frontier as more manufacturers now
in the trade produced smoothbore and rifled guns, now
coming from Europe and American firms, individual molds
and bar lead still had to be purchased.
1755 Sir William Johnson wrote to Colden and Kerly:
MY LAST, I HAVE GOT UP THE GUNS YOU SENT ME, WHICH WILL
NOT ANSWER AT ALL, INSTEAD OF BEING LIGHT INDIAN GUNS AS
I WROTE FOR, I FIND THEY ARE OLD MUSKETS VAMPED UP ANEW.
SO LARGE AND WIDE A BORE THE INDIANS NEVER USE, NEITHER
WOULD THEY CARRY THEM IF THEY WERE TO BE PAID NEVER SO
MUCH FOR IT. SO I RETURN THEM TO YOU, IN ORDER TO CHANGE
THEM FOR LIGHT GUNS, IF YOU CAN, IF NOT I DON'T WANT
wrote Governor Clinton that his stores of materials for
the Indians were extremely limited. He requested material
for coats, ruffled shirts, "20 caster[beaver]hats
with scallop lace, a parcell of "bullet moulds"
for casting ball & swan shot. There were several
requests made for the parcell of "bullet moulds"
for casting ball & swan shot over a lengthy period
while Sir William Johnson was in charge of operations in
dealing with the Iroquois trade.
was recorded in 1792; "Americans have met a
delegation of Chickasaws and Choctaws at Cumberland. They
gave the Indians a few lead bars because they had no ball
with them and ,due to a lack of any muskets, gave rifles
to three principal chiefs." When the Spaniards read
the report they where upset and planned to stop any other
trades of this type in the area, nothing was found as to
the out come of the problem - whether the Spaniards and
the Americans met or sent word to each other after the
1830 the lead mining and smelting industry was well
developed turning out lead in large pigs weighting
generally about 65-75 pounds, stacked and ready for
shipment up and down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
Employees hired by the year at these ports would cut up
the pigs and mold then into trade balls and small bar lead
in their spare time, thus helping to fill the demand of
travelers on these rivers moving west.
balls were cast in iron, bronze or brass gang molds - by
1850 there were seven gang molds for balls and one brass
or bronze mold for buckshot on the inventory at many of
the forts, Fort Union employees bragged at the speed that
they could turn out ball and shot.
Chouteau packing account for the "loway Outfit"
in 1831 included:
lead mold for 12 bars lead............$4.50
pigs lead 140 at 3 cts...................$4.20
late as 1870 James Willard Schultz wrote of selling
"Number Thirty balls" in cloth bags to the
Blackfeet. As late as1883 the Baltinmore and St. Louis
Shot Towers were still offering 1/2 ounce balls of .52
caliber. Reports and shipping records up into the early
1900's show a small but steady supply of shot and ball
still finding it's way into the wilderness.
the Hanna-White cabin near Ten Sleep in the Big Horn
mountains of Wyoming was found bar lead with dates of
1880, one bar at the Museum of the Fur Trade from that
site is marked "E.W. Blatchford & Co.
Chicago". Eliphalet Blatchford began business in St.
Louis in 1850, he was known for stamping the customer's
name on each bar of lead, like Charley Hanson would says,
"an excellent advertising scheme".
think we have explored the lead shot, lead ball and bar
lead enough to give you an idea that this was in large
demand for a long period in North America from the start
of the Colonies through the Fur Trade and into the early
1900's, a longer period than most would think of.
let take a look at a few of the Shot Towers, their
operators and a little history without being to boring.
shot towers where found in the New England states in the
early 18th century and flourished in New York and western
Pennsylvania. By 1809 John Maclot built the first shot
tower west of Pittsburgh and had it in operation the same
year. In 1810 Moses Austin, originator of the plan to
colonize Texas, built another shot tower at Herculaneum,
by 1814 a third tower appeared with the construction
completed by Chris and John Honey.
Saint Louis Shot Tower: As St. Louis' industries grew and
the town was exploding with population along with
outlining settlements involved with the Westward Movement,
it was only natural that a shot tower was needed to fill
the demand. Ferdinand Kennett saw the chance for an
enterprising person to become wealthy and with partners
like his brother Luther and James White it wasn't long
that his dream was fulfilled. By 1836 the Saint Louis Shot
Tower Company had purchased the J.H. Alford Company, it's
warehouse and shot tower in Herculaneum and by 1840 formed
a partnership with John Latty to make shot and form a new
company - F. Kennett & Company.
SIMONDS & CO. "WHO WILL KEEP A CONSTANT
SUPPLY OF PATENT AND BUCK SHOT AND SMALL BAR LEAD ON
HAND AND WILL FILL ORDERS UPON SHORTEST NOTICE. THE
OFFICE OF THE COMPANY WILL BE KEPT AT THE COUNTING ROOM
OF JOHN SIMONDS, 24 WATER ST., ST. LOUIS. JAN 31,
1849" notice seen in the Missouri
company had become a copartner ship as it expanded with
several silent and named partners, by 1854 Ferdinand
Kennett had completed his dream and retired an
exceptionally successful man.
St. Louis Shot Tower supplied large quantities of lead
shot, trade balls, and small lead bars to the frontier,
mentioning firms like Chouteau, Merle and Sanford, and
Chouteau and Valle. A number of one pound lead bars, parts
of lead bars and the 1/2 pound lead bars have been found
in present day Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado
five month period the shot tower was capable of producing
pounds of varied sizes of shot and round balls.
pounds of lead bars. A total of shot and lead in five
months of:......2,422,835 pounds
Youle Shot Tower: The Youle Shot Tower was built around
1830 on the banks of the East River, beyond Kip's Bay on
Manhattan Island in the state of New York, the owner
George Youle is listed as a dry goods merchant and builder
of the shot tower in Longworth's New Directory for
shot tower operated for years and was quite productive,
selling much of its inventory to hardware and sporting
goods dealers in New York and Pennsylvania. In turn the
dealers supplied the Indian Bureau, the American Fur Trade
and a number of suppliers in the south and west. One of
those suppliers being the Tryon Company of Phila. PA, the
same manufacturer of the Tyron trade gun and Tryon rifle,
along with cutting tools and general hardware.
one considers the small size of the product manufactured
and compares the sizes of the building and lofty tower
devoted to its operation, the proportions are greatly
distorted. The apparatus was merely a plate of copper with
a number of holes punched in it and placed a few feet
above a kettle of water in the tower, the melted lead was
poured, descended and passing through the holes in the
plate into the water, cooled and hardened all in one
operation. Probably the hardest part of the manufacturing
of shot was moving the material from the ground to the top
of the tower and into the furnaces at that location, many
accidents have been recorded at this area, thus workers in
the upper part of the tower received more for their daily
wage than those working at ground level. The idea of a
shot tower as a monument was never found to have the same
attraction as those towers of light-houses or ones found
at stone forts on the frontier, a shot tower was a place
of unbelievable heat, hard work and bad air to breathe.
operating in New York as late as 1868 where three shot
towers, but the new "wind Tower" method, using a
short fall against a blast of cool air soon made them
obsolete. This new process was patented in 1848 by T.O.
Leroy & Co. of New York and by 1873 they where the
only surviving shot tower in New York.
NOTE: I purchased an original [HBC c.] mold appr..
1750-1800 period, a [HBC] (overstamp) mold app..
1800-1835/40, and a "St. Louis Shot Tower" mold
app.. 1830-1850. I went into the bar lead business,
selling to dealers and retail customers, then something
happened that our forefather's didn't have to deal with -
the EPA let me know I was against policy for the area I
was manufacturing in. Wanting to keep the original molds
for my personal collection I had a friend make a new set
from the originals and have now sold the reproduction set
of molds to Blue Heron Mercantile, Jim will be reproducing
the bars mentioned my the time you read this article.
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.29, No.3 Buck &
Ball Molds for Indians - Charles E. Hanson, Jr.
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.32, No.2 American
Trade Goods - Charles E. Hanson, Jr.
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.9, No.2 More On The
St. Louis Shot Tower - The Engages
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.10, No.4 The Youle
Shot Tower - Charles E. Hanson, Jr.
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.14, No.3 Lead In The
Fur Trade - Charles E. Hanson, Jr.
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.22, No.3 A Lead Bar
From The Hanna-White Cabin - Miles Gilbert & Wayne
Museum Of The Fur Trade Quarterly Vol.3, No.3 The St.
Louis Shot Tower - Charles E. Hanson, Jr.
Lead Region [neat