History of Lead Mining in Missouri
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.
- Southeast Missouri Lead District, or SEMO - This includes the Old Lead Belt and the currently active Viburnum Trend (New Lead Belt). There are four active lead mines in the Viburnum Trend and two active smelters, all owned and operated by the Doe Run Company. The Washington County Barite Sub-District within the Old Lead Belt covered over 250 square miles, with the remaining Southeast Missouri Lead District encompassing over 400 square miles.
- Tri-State District - This includes approximately 14 counties in southwest Missouri, Cherokee County, Kansas and Ottawa County, Oklahoma. The Tri-State District encompasses over 2,000 square miles of land, with at least 700 of those square miles considered heavily mined areas.
- Central District - This is a 600 square mile area centered around the Lake of the Ozarks. The Central District produced much less ore than the other two districts.