Name: Eads, James Buchanan
Born/Started: May. 23, 1820
Died/Ended: Mar. 08, 1887
Description: James B. Eads was an architect and engineer best known for designing and building the Eads Bridge at St. Louis, considered one of the manmade wonders of America. Eads also played an instrumental role in the development of gunboats for the Union Army during the Civil War and was considered one of the leading experts of his time on river management and water transportation. Born in 1820 in Lawrenceburg, IN, James Buchanan Eads was a self-taught engineer. As a young boy living in St. Louis, he quit school and sold apples in the street to help his struggling family. His fascination with the "Mighty Mississippi" began at age 18, when he became a purser´s clerk on a Mississippi River steamboat. A budding entrepreneur, Eads soon went into business salvaging vessels wrecked by underwater snags in the muddy river. To do this, he invented a diving bell that allowed him to walk the shifting river bottom and guide the snag boats to their targets. Within a few years he had made himself rich and had acquired a formidable knowledge of hydraulics.
When the Civil War began, Eads was asked to by the U.S. government for advice on how to wrest control of the lower Mississippi River from the Confederacy. Eads proposed building seven armor-plated, shallow-draft gunboats to help Union land forces overpower Confederate forts impeding their progress downriver. He accomplished this task in less than 100 days, and his City Class Ironclads were commissioned and in service on the western waters by January 1862. The first ironclads built in the United States, these gunboats played an integral role in winning the "Mighty Mississippi" for the Union and thus cutting the Confederacy in two.
Eads also designed a complex steam-driven turret used on river monitors during the war that rivaled John Ericsson´s celebrated model. Two of these monitors, the Chickasaw and Winnebago, made history as part of David "Damn the torpedoes!" Farragut´s fleet when he entered Mobile Bay in 1864.
Soon after the war ended, Eads set out to build the first bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Due to specifications that the span be at least 50 feet above the surface for smokestack clearance, with a central span at least 500 feet long, most engineers considered the job impossible. Nevertheless, Eads succeeded, although it took the next seven years. The bridge opened in 1874, and still is in use in St. Louis, a testament to Eads´ remarkable talent.
In later life, Eads traveled widely and was regularly consulted by governments on projects related to rivers and transportation. His successes include an innovative approach to re-engineering the Mississippi delta waters at New Orleans to improve access and navigation for merchant vessels. Less successful was his idea to build a "ship railroad" across southern Mexico that would conceivably cut thousands of miles off the trip between the eastern and western coasts of the United States.
The father of the Eads gunboats, bridge, and jetties died in Nassau, Bahamas in 1887 at the age of 66.
Eads, James Buchanan (1820-1887), a celebrated American engineer. He was born at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, May 23, 1820. He died at Nassau, Bahama Islands, March 8, 1887. Perhaps no other American engineer has been connected with more notable enterprises. In young manhood he won a reputation by devising some barges for raising sunken steamers. In 1861, at the call of the Federal government, he constructed eight ironclad steamers inside of one hundred days. He also built other gunboats and mortar boats, all of use in opening up the Mississippi and its tributaries. In 1867-74 he built the famous Eads Bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis. It is a mammoth steel arch structure of three spans, resting on stone pillars sent down to bed rock far below the bottom of a treacherous river.
Structures & Places
site was made possible by: the City of St. Louis Planning and Urban Design Agency and