This rounded ball of lead was possibly formed during a 120 ft free fall from the top of the Shot Tower in Dubuque!

A simple sounding invention, Shot Towers relied on the laws of physics and used gravity to do the heavy lifting to form its product. At the top of the tower there is a mesh grid through which molten lead is poured. As it falls, the lead drop is turned, stretched, and pulled tight and smooth into a near perfect sphere. The fall takes seconds and at the end it drops into a pool of water to rapidly cool into its resting shape.

Lead can be formed into many things, but Shot Towers produced just one in a variety of sizes – lead shot for weapons. This rounded ball was likely part of the shot produced during the Civil War when the Dubuque Shot Tower was built. At its peak, records indicate that up to 8 tons of shot was produced daily and could range from the common .69 caliber rounded musket ball to this heavyweight measuring almost 2 inches across. A lead shot like this would likely be used for cannon cannister fire.

While this image makes the shot look small and perhaps more like a paperweight than something scary – it is deceiving. Imagine up to a dozen of these encased in a tin that disintegrates when fired, sending the balls of lead shot out with enough force to pierce through trees, limbs, and break stone! Soldiers feared cannister fire, and its close companion called grapeshot, because it spread out the damage with powerful force.  We do not know if this shot was used but it represents the hundreds of thousands that found their way to battlefields.