Missouri State Penitentiary

1836 - 2004

These photos depict the Missouri State Penitentiary, a notorious prison that left an indelible mark on the state’s history. Constructed in 1834, the penitentiary became the first prison west of the Mississippi and welcomed its first prisoner, Wilson Eidson of Green County, two years later. For much of the 19th century, free inmate labor contributed to the prison’s growth and Jefferson City’s economy. Inmates built houses throughout the 1840s, and after the Civil War, they quarried stone to construct a prison addition referred to as “A Hall.” By 1885, six major shoe factories and other industries began exploiting inmate labor to reduce their expenses and boost the area economy. 

By 1900, the prison had expanded to accommodate 2,200 inmates and was heralded by the Jefferson City Star Tribune as the “Greatest in the World.” However, future inmates would disagree. Dissatisfaction with prison conditions and the newly appointed parole board led prisoners to participate in a major uprising in September 1954 that brought national attention to the penitentiary. Over the course of the rebellion, fifty inmates were injured, four were killed, one attempted suicide, and four officers were wounded. Several buildings were set on fire resulting in five million dollars in damages.

In 1967, Missouri State Penitentiary earned the new title “the bloodiest 47 acres in America” from Time Magazine. Over its 168 year tenure, the prison had witnessed hundreds of inmates killed by gas chambers, lethal injection, homicide, and even torture. Renamed Jefferson City Correctional Facility, the prison was decommissioned in 2004 but remains open to tour.

Object Details

Categories: Politics & Government

Date: 1836 - 2004

Subject: Prisons

Contributing Institution: The Library of Congress

County: Cole

Region: Central

Type: Photograph

Language: English

Latitude: 38.573739

Longitude: -92.161960