Eads, James

Eads, James (Buchanan)

(1820–87) engineer, inventor; born in Lawrenceburg, Ind. The self-educated son of a nomadic, not very prosperous merchant, he found work as a purser on a Mississippi River steamboat in 1838. In his free hours he invented a diving bell and, in 1842, went into the salvage business, recovering cargo and machinery from sunken river steamboats. This venture brought Eads a fortune. After President Lincoln personally asked for his help, in 1861 he built, in 100 days, eight ironclad gunboats that helped Union forces take control of the Kentucky-Tennessee River systems. His Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis (1867–74) contained a 520-foot-long central span. That bridge, together with his engineering and navigation improvements to the mouth of the Mississippi (1875–79), raised him to the front rank of engineers of his era.