Industrial Influence of Lead in Missouri

Isaac Lippincott
1912 Journal of Political Economy  
In a paper referring to the mineral wealth of Wisconsin Dr. 0. G. Libby has shown that the lead and shot trade together attracted capital to that state, helped to fill its southern counties with population, and gave an impulse to industrial life which has never since been lost.' It might be observed in this connection that the lead resources of southern Missouri have produced here similar results, and, in the second place, that up to I852 or I853, when the building of railways caused a
more » ... eastward of a large part of the traffic, St. Louis received the principal commercial benefits of the lead business of the upper Mississippi region including southern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois. The quest for furs was not the pioneer industry in Missouri as it was in other parts of the interior. The priority belongs to lead.2 This was due in part to the mineral wealth of the territory, and in part to the enterprise of John Law, and to the requirements of the Company of the West which made the search for precious metals a matter of great importance. Thus the beginning of mining in Missouri antedated the founding of the first trading post by about forty years. While the site of St. Louis, settled in I764, was chosen with reference to the needs of the fur trade, a number of factors combined to make this city one of the leading lead markets of the country. The concentration here of a large part of the western Indian trade was in itself one of the elements in the situation, for the trappers, who brought hither their furs, bought supplies, one of the most important of which was shot. While the bulk of the product of the upper Mississippi mines, for a number of years, had no other outlet than down river, it did not follow from this circumstance that this traffic would seek St. Louis rather than other places, such as Alton, Ill., which at one time made a vigorous effort to get it, or Ste. Genevieve, Mo., which was already a place of x Wisconsin Historical Collection, XIII, 334. 2 Western Journal and Civilian, III, i8; J. T. Scharf, History of St. Louis City and County, I, 308; II, 1249. 695 This content downloaded from on March 03, 2018 10:23:02 AM All use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions ( 696 JOURNAL OF POLITICAL ECONOMY deposit before St. Louis became of any commercial importance, The determining factors were that the town which secured the lead business should be able to furnish not only provisions, and a variety of merchandise, but a considerable amount of capital. The lastnamed condition was especially necessary, because the miners and manufacturers were, as a rule, persons of small means and were, therefore, compelled to realize on their product as soon as possible to keep their works in operation. At the time the northern lead trade began to grow, no place on the river was so well able to satisfy the above conditions as St. Louis. In view of the early relative importance of this business, one writer has asserted that St. Louis almost owed its existence to lead." Indeed, between the years I790 and I835, this element and furs generally constituted the principal exports, and up to about I850 the traffic in lead, taking into account receipts of metal and shipment of merchandise or money in payment for the same, formed a considerable part of the total value of the commerce of the city.2 While in later years the lead trade declined in relative importance, the imports were valued often at several millions of dollars annually. The amount in I9I0 was $9,165,000.3 This brief outline serves to convey some idea of the role which lead has played in the prosperity of the region. In this paper an answer is sought to the question: "What has been the contribution of this element as a resource and as an article of trade to the development of Missouri in population, trade, and maufacture ?" The inauguration of lead mining and smelting in Missouri, shortly after I720, was a by-product of the quest for precious metals, and had its immediate origin in the activity of John Law and the organization of the Company of the West. Law saw a magnificent opportunity for speculation in the lands and supposed riches of the valley of the Mississippi, and turned his attention to this region upon the formation of the company in I7I7.4 But he realized that I J. T. Scharf, op. cit., II, I249. 2 Cf. infra.
doi:10.1086/252076 fatcat:cp4odnbquvejtgokpar2txkf24