James Buchanan Eads

Last updated
James Buchanan Eads
James Buchanan Eads - Brady-Handy.jpg
James Buchanan Eads
Born(1820-05-23)May 23, 1820
DiedMarch 8, 1887(1887-03-08) (aged 66)
OccupationCivil engineer
Martha Nash Dillon(m. 18451852)

Eunice Hagerman Eads(m. 18541887)
ChildrenOne son, three step-daughters
Awards Albert Medal (1884)

Captain James Buchanan Eads (May 23, 1820 – March 8, 1887) was a world-renowned [1] American civil engineer and inventor, holding more than 50 patents. [2]


Early life and education

Eads was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, [3] and named for his mother's cousin, future President of the United States James Buchanan. Eads' father, Thomas C. Eads pursued a fortune to no avail and the family moved several times. [4] Eads grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. The family lost all of their possessions in a steamboat fire as they landed in St. Louis in 1833. [4] Thomas Eads' business ventures in St. Louis failed, and he abandoned his family and moved upriver. [4]

James Eads was largely self-educated; at the age of 13, he left school to take up work to help support the family. He sold apples on the streets of St. Louis to help support his sisters and mother, who ran a boardinghouse. [4] One of his first jobs 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 read books on physical science, mechanics, machinery, and civil engineering. When Eads became successful later in life and Williams suffered hardship, Eads reciprocated Williams' generosity by providing money for Williams' comfort in his old age. [4]


Photograph portrait of Martha Dillon Eads, wife of James B. Eads. Martha Dillon Eads, 1821 - 1852. (First wife of James B. Eads).jpg
Photograph portrait of Martha Dillon Eads, wife of James B. Eads.

Around 1842, Eads fell in love with Martha Dillon, a woman related to him by marriage. Martha's father was Patrick Dillon, a prominent St. Louis businessman. Patrick did not approve of the couple, as he wanted Martha to marry someone with money and influence. In October 1845, James and Martha wed without her father's consent. [5]

Martha moved in with Eads' parents in LeClaire, Iowa while Eads stayed behind in St. Louis to set up a glass works. Although their living arrangement was supposed to be temporary, the failure of his glass business made it permanent. Eads had many debts to pay off from the failed business and he went back to working in salvage. [5]

Martha died in October 1852 of cholera. She did not live to see Eads become successful. Five years after her death, when Eads retired from working on the river, he had amassed a fortune of $5. [5]

Nine years after Martha's death, in 1861, Eads remarried. [5]


When he was twenty-two, Eads designed a salvage boat and showed the drawings to two shipbuilders, Calvin Case and William Nelson. Although Eads had no previous experience and no capital for the project, Case and Nelson were impressed with him and the three became partners. [4]

At that time, salvaging wrecks from the Mississippi River was nearly impossible because of strong currents. [4] Eads made his initial fortune in salvage by creating a diving bell, using a 40  US gal (33  imp gal ; 150  l ) wine barrel to retrieve goods sunk in riverboat disasters. [4] He also devised special boats for raising the remains of sunken ships from the river bed. Eads did much of the diving himself because the work was so dangerous. His work gave Eads an intimate knowledge of the river, as he explored its depths from the Gulf of Mexico to Iowa. [4] Because of his detailed knowledge of the Mississippi (the equal of any professional river pilot), his exceptional ability at navigating the most treacherous parts of the river system, and his personal fleet of snag-boats and salvage craft, he was afforded the much prized courtesy title of "Captain" by the rivermen of the Mississippi and was addressed as Captain Eads throughout his life. [6]

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. [7] Soon afterward, he was contracted to construct the City-class ironclads for the United States Navy, and produced seven such ships within five months: [8] St. Louis , Cairo , Carondelet , Cincinnati, Louisville , Mound City , and Pittsburgh . [9] He also converted the river steamer New Era into the ironclad Essex . The river ironclads were a vital element in the highly successful Federal offensive into Tennessee, Kentucky and upper Mississippi (February–June, 1862). Eads corresponded frequently with Navy officers of the Western Flotilla, and used their "combat lessons learned" to improve vessels during post-combat repairs, and incorporate improvements into succeeding generations of gunboats. By the end of the war he would build more than 30 river ironclads.

The last were so hardy that the Navy sent them into service in the Gulf of Mexico, where they supported the successful Federal attack on the Confederate port city of Mobile. All senior officers in the Western Theater, including Grant and Sherman, agreed that Eads and his vessels had been vital to early victory in the West. The first four gunboats were built at the Eads' Union Marine Works in Carondelet, Missouri. The next three were built under Eads' contract at the Mound City (Illinois) Marine Railway and Shipyard. [10] Eads' vessels were the first United States ironclads to enter combat. On January 11, 1862 the Eads-built ironclads St. Louis and Essex fought the Confederate gunboats CSS General Polk , CSS Ivy , and CSS Jackson at Lucas Bend, on the Mississippi River. Subsequently, on February 6, 1862, Eads' ironclads captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. [11] This was over a month before the combat actions of the ironclads CSS Virginia and USS Monitor during the March 8–9, 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads.

During the war, Eads wrote a check to the War Department for $1,000 to help homeless Confederates and Union sympathizers. After the war, he held a fair to raise money for the thousands of homeless refugees in St. Louis. [4]

Mississippi River bridge

Eads Bridge, St. Louis 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,[ citation needed ] which allowed steam boat traffic to continue using the river during construction. The bridge is still in use today, carrying both automobile and light rail traffic over the river. The Eads Bridge is the only bridge to be named for its engineer. [4]

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. Eads offered to build the jetties first, and charge the government later. [12] If he was successful, and the jetties caused the river to cut a channel 30 feet deep for 20 years, the government agreed to pay him $8 million. Eads was successful. The jetty system was installed in 1876 and the channel was cleared in February 1877. [13] Journalist Joseph Pulitzer, who had known Eads for five years, invested $20,000 in this project. [14] 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. [15] . The development of navigable channels at the mouth of the Mississippi River made Eads famous. Alternatives to Eads' jetties we developed by leading engineers, integrating innovative technologies and new concepts of ecological design. The patented technologies by Juan Bautista Medici and Lewis M Haupt were never tested by the USAMCE though they may have radically altered the future of the river. [16]

Other work

Contemporary illustration of Eads' proposal for an Interoceanic Ship Railway Mining and Scientific Press - March 28 1885 - Interoceanic Ship Railway (206).png
Contemporary illustration of Eads' proposal for an Interoceanic Ship Railway

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.

Later life and death

Although he came from a humble background, Eads' accomplishments throughout his life earned him wealth and renown. He was so revered that Scientific American proposed that he run for president of the United States. [4]

Eads died while on vacation in Nassau, Bahamas, aged 66. Eads and his second wife, Eunice, had moved to New York four years before his death. However, his funeral took place in St. Louis and he was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri in the family vault. [4]


1888 color lithograph of J. B. Eads, made for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes J. B. Eads, printer's sample for the World's Inventors souvenir album (A25) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP838823.jpg
1888 color lithograph of J. B. Eads, made for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes

The towns of Eads, Tennessee; Eads, Colorado; and Port Eads, Louisiana are named for him.

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

Eads Street is a street running parallel to U.S. Route 1 Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City, Arlington Virginia.

In 1920, Eads was added to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans colonnade, located on the grounds of the Bronx Community College in New York.

Eads is memorialized at Washington University in St. Louis by James B. Eads Hall, a 19th-century building long associated with science and technology. Eads Hall was the site of Professor Arthur Holly Compton's Nobel Prize–winning experiments in electromagnetic radiation. Today Eads Hall continues to serve Washington University as the site of a number of facilities including the Arts and Sciences Computing Center. Eads Hall was the gift of Captain Eads's daughter Mrs. James Finney How.

Each year the Academy of Science of St. Louis awards the James B. Eads Award recognizing a distinguished individual for outstanding achievement in science and technology.

Eads is recognized with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. [17]

In 1927, the deans of America's engineering colleges vote Eads one of the top five engineers of all time, an accolade he shared with Leonardo da Vinci, James Watt, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Thomas A. Edison. [4]

Eads' great Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1964 and on October 21, 1974 was listed as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was also awarded a Special Award of Recognition by the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1974 on the 100th anniversary of its entry into service.


  1. How 1900: p. 105. "His reputation was world-wide."
  2. How 1900: pp. 118-119.
  3. "Secrets of A Master Builder". PBS. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Shepley, Carol Ferring (2008). Movers and Shakers, Scalawags and Suffragettes: Tales from Bellefontaine Cemetery. St. Louis, Missouri: Missouri History Museum.
  5. 1 2 3 4 PBS. "People & Events: James Buchanan Eads, 1820 —1887". PBS American Experience. PBS. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  6. How 1900: p. 12.
  7. 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."
  8. Gunboats on the Mississippi
  9. How 1900: pp. 32-33.
  10. "Ironclads" Archived 2011-02-04 at the Wayback Machine , St. Louis County, Missouri, US GenNet
  11. Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Eads, James Buchanan"  . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  12. Eads Jetties Plaque, Fort Jackson, LA.
  13. "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. 02-05-1877. p. 1. Retrieved 01-10-2009.Check date values in: |accessdate=, |date= (help)
  14. James McGrath Morris (2010). Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power. HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 103 and 112.
  15. "Fighting Against Nature; How to Prevent the Recurring (sic) 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. 1890-04-28. p. 1. Retrieved 01-10-2009.Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  16. Hindle, Richard L. Prototyping the Mississippi Delta: Patents, alternative futures, and the design of complex environmental systems. Journal of Landscape Architecture 12.2 (2017): 32-47.
  17. St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Archived from the original on 2 February 2013. Retrieved 25 April 2013.

Related Research Articles

USS <i>Essex</i> (1856) 1856 gunboat of the United States Navy

USS Essex was a 1000-ton ironclad river gunboat of the United States Army and later United States Navy during the American Civil War. It was named for Essex County, Massachusetts. USS Essex was originally constructed in 1856 at New Albany, Indiana as a steam-powered ferry named New Era.

Eads Bridge Bridge spanning the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri

Eads Bridge is a combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River connecting the cities of St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois. It is located on the St. Louis riverfront between Laclede's Landing, to the north, and the grounds of the Gateway Arch, to the south. The bridge is named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads.

First Battle of Memphis 1862 battle of the American Civil War

The First Battle of Memphis was a naval battle fought on the Mississippi River immediately above the city of Memphis, Tennessee on June 6, 1862, during the American Civil War. The engagement was witnessed by many of the citizens of Memphis. It resulted in a crushing defeat for the Confederate forces, and marked the virtual eradication of a Confederate naval presence on the river. Despite the lopsided outcome, the Union Army failed to grasp its strategic significance. Its primary historical importance is that it was the last time civilians with no prior military experience were permitted to command ships in combat. As such, it is a milestone in the development of professionalism in the United States Navy.

USS <i>Carondelet</i> (1861)

USS Carondelet (1861) was a City-class ironclad gunboat constructed for the War Department by James B. Eads during the American Civil War. It was named for the town where it was built, Carondelet, Missouri.

USS <i>Cairo</i>

USS Cairo was one of the first American ironclad warships built at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War.

USS <i>Chickasaw</i> (1864)

USS Chickasaw was an ironclad Milwaukee-class river monitor built for the United States Navy during the American Civil War. The ship participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, during which she was lightly damaged, and the bombardments of Forts Gaines and Morgan as Union troops besieged the fortifications defending the bay. In March–April 1865, Chickasaw again supported Union forces during the Mobile Campaign as they attacked Confederate fortifications defending the city of Mobile, Alabama.

USS <i>Benton</i>

USS Benton (1861) was an ironclad river gunboat in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. She was named for American senator Thomas Hart Benton. Benton was a former center-wheel catamaran snagboat and was converted by James B. Eads, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1861 and commissioned February 24, 1862 as part of the Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla.

USS <i>Louisville</i> (1861) Union ironclad

USS Louisville was a City-class ironclad gunboat constructed for the U.S. Army by James B. Eads during the American Civil War.

Carondelet, St. Louis Neighborhood of St. Louis in Missouri, United States

Carondelet is a neighborhood in the extreme southeastern portion of St. Louis, Missouri. It was incorporated as an independent city in 1851 and was annexed by the City of St. Louis in 1870. As of the 2000 Census, the neighborhood has a population of 9,960 people.

USS <i>Baron DeKalb</i> Civil War ironclad river gunboat formerly known as the USS Saint Louis and used by the United States Army

USS Baron DeKalb (1861) was a City-class ironclad gunboat constructed for the Union Navy by James B. Eads during the American Civil War.

Missouri in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, Missouri was a hotly contested border state populated by both Union and Confederate sympathizers. It sent armies, generals, and supplies to both sides, was represented with a star on both flags, maintained dual governments, and endured a bloody neighbor-against-neighbor intrastate war within the larger national war.

USS <i>Mound City</i> (1861) City class ironclad gunboat

USS Mound City was a City-class ironclad gunboat built for service on the Mississippi River and its tributaries in the American Civil War. Originally commissioned as part of the Union Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla, she remained in that service until October 1862. Then the flotilla was transferred to the Navy and she became part of the Mississippi River Squadron, where she remained until the end of the war.

The Mississippi River campaigns, within the Trans-Mississippi Theater of American Civil War, were a series of military actions by the Union Army during which Union troops, helped by Union Navy gunboats and river ironclads, took control of the Cumberland River, the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River, main north-south avenues of transport. In July 1863, the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate States of America was split from the Confederate States east of the river when the Union gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The Union then controlled a main artery of transportation for the South, depriving the rest of the Confederacy of men, food and other supplies from the Confederate States west of the river. While not commonly lumped together under this designation, the river campaigns were undertaken mainly for reasons found in Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott's 1861 Anaconda Plan. Scott proposed to defeat the Confederacy largely through blockade of ports and control of rivers leading to the economic 'strangulation' of the Confederacy, which he hoped would prevent a large number of bloody land battles.

City-class ironclad

The Pook Turtles, or City-class gunboats to use their semi-official name, were war vessels intended for service on the Mississippi River during the American Civil War. They were also sometimes referred to as "Eads gunboats." The labels are applied to seven vessels of uniform design built from the keel up in Carondelet, Missouri shipyards owned by James Buchanan Eads. Eads was a wealthy St. Louis industrialist who risked his fortune in support of the Union.

The order of battle for the Union and Confederate forces at the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864.

Battle of Lucas Bend 1862 battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Lucas Bend took place on January 11, 1862 near Lucas Bend, four miles north of Columbus on Mississippi River in Kentucky as it lay at the time of the American Civil War. In the network of the Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio rivers, the Union river gunboats under Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote and General Ulysses S. Grant sought to infiltrate and attack the Confederate positions in Tennessee. On the day of the battle, the Union ironclads Essex and St Louis, transporting troops down the Mississippi in fog, engaged the Confederate cotton clad warships General Polk, Ivy and Jackson towing the gun platform New Orleans at a curve known as Lucas Bend in Kentucky. The Essex, under Commander William D. Porter, and the St Louis forced the Confederate ships to fall back after an hour of skirmishing during which the Union commander was wounded. They retreated to the safety of a nearby Confederate battery at Columbus, where the Union vessels could not follow.

Louis How (1873–1947) was a prolific twentieth-century poet and a biographer of his grandfather, James Buchanan Eads, who built the Eads Bridge crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

The Milwaukee-class monitors were a class of four riverine ironclad monitors built during the American Civil War. Several supported Union forces along the Mississippi River in mid-1864 before participating in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August. Chickasaw and Winnebago bombarded Confederate coastal fortifications during the battle and during subsequent operations as well as engaging the ironclad Tennessee II. The other two ships arrived at Mobile Bay after the battle and all four supported the land attacks on Mobile in March–April 1865. Milwaukee struck a torpedo during this time and sank. The surviving three ships were sold in 1874; Chickasaw was converted into a ferry and survived until 1944 when she was scuttled. Her wreck was discovered in 2004.

Frederick Oakes Sylvester American painter

Frederick Oakes Sylvester was an American art educator and artist in the Arts and Crafts movement in St. Louis, MO.

Calvin Case of St. Louis, Missouri.