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.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.