Hazardous Waste Program

History of Lead Mining in Missouri
missouri lead mining districts

It is no coincidence that Missouri's official State Mineral is Galena, the major source of lead ore. For most of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Missouri was the global leader in lead production, and even today some of the largest and most important remaining lead deposits in the world are located in southeast Missouri.  But well before Missouri was even a state, the region was widely recognized as a center of mining, milling and smelting of lead; the first recorded instance of lead mining in Missouri was by French explorers in the early 1720s.  Missouri also has important resources of barium and zinc ores, many of which tend to be co-located with the lead mining areas. 

Lead production has played an important role in the economic growth and development of Missouri.  Estimates of the aggregate lead production in Missouri since mining began in the early 18th Century, top 17 million tons, at a value of nearly 5 billion dollars.  Today, Missouri has the largest active primary lead smelter in the United States (Herculaneum) and the largest secondary lead smelter in the world (Buick). 

There were three main mining districts in Missouri.  The map on this page shows the approximate locations of these districts and a short description is provided below.

Map of Missouri Lead Mining Districts
Missouri lead mining history by county