James Buchanan Eads



Occupation 1


Occupation 2

Engineer/diving bell




NA/South & Gulf region


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)








Civil engineer and entrepreneur� When Eads was nineteen, he joined his family in Iowa, where they had moved in 1837. There he took a job as a second clerk on the river steamer Knickerbocker, working the Mississippi River. A short time later a snag in the river caused the steamer to sink along with a full cargo of lead ore from the Galena mines. While serving as a clerk on two other boats, Eads pondered how valuable goods might be recovered from the large number of river steamers that sank, and he developed a design for what he called a "submarine"--really a surface boat with a diving bell attached--which could descend, move along the river bottom, and recover the cargo and machinery of wrecked steamboats�

After finding partners Calvin Case and William Nelson to help finance the venture, Eads in 1842 went into the business of salvaging material from sunken boats. He was extremely successful� In 1845 [he] started the first glassworks west of the Ohio River. Although Eads mastered the technology, the costs were too high, and the business closed in 1847. He then returned to steamboat-salvaging, which became a booming business as traffic along the Mississippi rose. He designed new "submarines," equipped with derricks and steam-driven centrifugal pumps, which, by clearing the sand and silt out of the hulls of sunken ships, revolutionized salvaging by enabling the salvage ships to raise an entire sunken boat out of the water, not just the cargo and machinery�

With the onset of the Civil War, Eads recognized that control of the Mississippi would be an important objective of both the Union and Confederate strategies. Siding with the Union, he worked out a plan to blockade the Mississippi south of Cairo, Illinois, and defend the river with the then-radical idea of ironclad steam gunboats of shallow draft for the river waters. In 1861 the federal government awarded him a contract to build such gunboats, and within a short time Eads had 4,000 men at work in mines, iron mills, machine shops, foundries, and shipyards. After these gunboats provided the first major Union victories of the war, the Union government awarded Eads another contract to build more ironclads, which helped Admiral David Glasgow Farragut win the battle of Mobile Bay, a great strategic victory for the Union.

On the basis of Eads's familiarity with the technology of metalworking and the properties of iron and steel, and of his accumulated knowledge of the changing currents, depth differences, and obstacles in the Mississippi River, Eads was chosen in 1866 to head the project to build a bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis. Completed in 1874, this monumental accomplishment was later given his name, becoming the Eads Bridge�

Eads died in Nassau, Bahama Islands�

Related Images

external image head6_james_buchanan_eads_1879.jpg
Image Id: 410

Record ID: 170