Located about three miles southwest of Deadwood in the Black Hills National Forest, Lead was founded in April 1876 by brothers Fred and Moses Manuel who had ventured out from the booming gold town of Deadwood in search of gold. The brothers discovered a promising vein of ore near current-day Lead. Such veins were called leads. The brothers staked their claim, built a mill and in the spring of 1876 mined $5,000 worth of gold from what would eventually become Homestake Gold Mine.
When Homestake closed, the company donated it to the state of South Dakota. In 2006, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $70 million to establish the Sanford Center for Science Education. The state of South Dakota has invested $40 million to the project and secured a $10 million Community Development Block Grant. In 2011, the Department of Energy, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, began supporting science operations.