Sparks Shot Tower

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Sparks Shot Tower
Sparks Sthot Tower Philly.JPG
Tower in 2013
Sparks Shot Tower is located in Pennsylvania
Sparks Shot Tower
Location of Sparks Shot Tower in Pennsylvania
General information
Type Shot tower
Location Carpenter Street & Front Street
Town or city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Country United States
Coordinates 39°56′05″N 75°08′47″W / 39.9348°N 75.1463°W / 39.9348; -75.1463Coordinates: 39°56′05″N 75°08′47″W / 39.9348°N 75.1463°W / 39.9348; -75.1463
Construction started July 4, 1808 (1808-07-04)
Owner City of Philadelphia (Recreation Department)
Height 142 feet (43 m)
Design and construction
  • Thomas Sparks
  • John Bishop
Designated April 19, 1997

The Sparks Shot Tower is a historic shot tower located at 129-131 Carpenter Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Opened on July 4, 1808, it was one of the first shot towers in the United States, with the Jackson Ferry Shot Tower in Wythe County, Virginia possibly predating it by a year or so. It was built near the Delaware River waterfront at Front and Carpenter Streets, just west of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church.


Supplies of lead shot were imported from Europe before the Embargo Act of 1807. Plumbers Thomas Sparks, John Bishop, and James Clement built the tower to take advantage of the limited available supply. At the start of the War of 1812, the federal government became their major customer, buying war munitions, and Quaker John Bishop sold his part of the company to Thomas Sparks.[1]

Before the use of shot towers, shot was made in wooden molds, which resulted in unevenly formed, low quality shot. Shot towers work on the principle that molten lead forms perfectly round balls when poured from a high place. Molten lead at the top of the tower was poured through a sieve or mesh, forming uniform spherical shot before falling into a large vat of water at the bottom of the tower.

The 142-foot (43 m) tall brick tower is 30 feet (9 m) in diameter at its base, tapering to 15 feet (5 m) at the top. Originally used to produce shot for hunters, the tower produced ammunition during the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

The tower operated for over a century, closing in 1913. Four generations of the Sparks family owned the tower util 1903, when they sold it to the United Lead Company of Pennsylvania. The City of Philadelphia bought the site in 1913.[1] The tower is now managed by the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation and is surrounded by a public playground. It can be seen looking west from I-95.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sparks Shot Tower, 1808, in John Mayer, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990)

External links[edit]