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James Buchanan Eads
File:James Buchanan Eads - Brady-Handy.jpg
James Buchanan Eads
Born May 23, 1820(1820-05-23)
Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Died March 8, 1887 (aged 66)
Nassau, Bahamas
Nationality American
Occupation civil engineer
Spouse(s) Martha Nash Dillon (m. 1845–1852) «start: (1845)–end+1: (1853)»"Marriage: Martha Nash Dillon to James Buchanan Eads" Location: (linkback:
Eunice Hagerman Eads (m. 1854–1887) «start: (1854)–end+1: (1888)»"Marriage: Eunice Hagerman Eads to James Buchanan Eads" Location: (linkback:
Children 2 daughters, 1 son, 3 step-daughters

James Buchanan Eads (May 23, 1820 – March 8, 1887) was a world-renowned[1] American civil engineer and inventor, holding more than fifty patents.[2].

Early life and education[]

Eads was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and named for his Mother's cousin, then Congressman and subsequent President of the United States James Buchanan. His early life was spent growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.

Eads was largely self-educated, at the age of thirteen he left school to take up work to help support the family. One of the first jobs he found was at the Williams & Duhring dry-goods store run by Barrett Williams. Williams allowed the young Eads to spend time in his library, located above the store. In Eads's spare time, he was able to read books on physical science, mechanics, machinery, and civil engineering.


Eads made his initial fortune in salvage, by creating a diving bell for retrieving goods from the bottom of rivers that were sunk there by riverboat disasters, especially along the busy Mississippi River. He also devised special boats for raising the remains of sunken ships from the river bed. Because he was in charge of these boats, people began to call him Captain Eads, a title which stuck to him throughout the years.[3]

Civil War[]

In 1861, after the outbreak of the American Civil War, Eads was called to Washington at the prompting of his friend, Attorney General Edward Bates, to consult on the defense of the Mississippi River.[4] Soon afterward, he was contracted to construct the City class ironclads for the United States Navy, and produced seven such ships within five months:[5] the St. Louis, the Cairo, the Carondelet, the Cincinnati, the Louisville, the Mound City, and the Pittsburgh.[6] He continued to produce ironclad steamships throughout the war, which greatly aided the Union.

Mississippi River bridge[]

File:Eads Bridge panorama 20090119.jpg

Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Eads designed and built the first road and rail bridge to cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis. The Eads Bridge, constructed from 1867 through 1874, was the first bridge of a significant size with steel as its primary material, and it was the longest arch bridge in the world when completed. Eads was the first bridge builder to employ the cantilever method, which allowed steam boat traffic to continue using the river during construction, and he was the first to use pneumatic caisson in the construction of bridge piers. The bridge is still in use today, carrying both automobile and light rail traffic over the river.

Mississippi River designs[]

The Mississippi in the 100-mile-plus stretch between the port of New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico frequently suffered from silting up of its outlets, stranding ships or making parts of the river unnavigable for a period of time. Eads solved the problem with a wooden jetty system that narrowed the main outlet of the river, causing the river to speed up and cut its channel deeper, allowing year-round navigation. The jetty system was installed in 1876 and the channel was cleared in February 1877.[7]

A flood in 1890 brought calls for a similar system for the entire Mississippi Valley. A jetty system would prevent the floods by deepening the main channel. However, there were concerns about the ability of water moving through a jetty system to cut out the rock and clay on the river bottom.[8] Top officials of the Army Corps of Engineers lobbied Congress for levees and flood walls of their own design, which exacerbated these disasters, and against Eads' jetty system, which would have reduced these disasters.[citation needed]

Other work[]

Eads designed a gigantic railway system intended for construction at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which would carry ocean going ships across the isthmus from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean; this attracted some interest but was never constructed.

In 1884 he became the first U.S. citizen awarded the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts.

Eads died in Nassau, Bahamas, aged 66. He was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.


Port Eads, Louisiana, is named for him.

US Route 50 through Lawrenceburg, his hometown, is called Eads Parkway in his honor.

He has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.


  • How, Louis (1900) (Google books). James B. Eads. The Riverside Biographical Series (First ed.). Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. pp. 1–120. ISBN 0836953339. "Testing." 
  • Weingardt, Richard G. (July 2005). "James Buchanan Eads". Leadership and Management in Engineering (Washington: American Society of Civil Engineers) 5 (3): 70–74. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2005)5:3(70). ISSN 1532-6748. 
  • Barry, John M.. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. ISBN 0-684-84002-2. 
  • Petroski, Henry. Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America. 


  1. How 1900: p. 105. "His reputation was world-wide."
  2. How 1900: pp. 118-119.
  3. How 1900: p. 12.
  4. How 1900: pp. 25-26. Eads received "a telegram calling him to Washington for consultation on the best method of defending and occupying the Western rivers."
  5. Gunboats on the Mississippi
  6. How 1900: pp. 32-33.
  7. "The Mississippi Jetties.; Operation of the System Shown in the Recent Flood from the Ohio River" (pdf). New York Times (The New York Times Company): p. 1. 02-05-1877. Retrieved 01-10-2009. 
  8. "Fighting Against Nature; How to Prevent the Recuring Mississippi Floods. The Jetty Plan of No Practical Benefit in Solving this Important Problem for the Country." (pdf). New York Times (The New York Times Company): p. 1. 04-28-1890. Retrieved 01-10-2009. 

External links[]

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