Eads, James Buchanan

Eads, James Buchanan
SUBJECT AREA: Civil engineering
b. 23 May 1820 Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA
d. 8 March 1887 Nassau, Bahamas
American bridge-builder and hydraulic engineer.
The son of an immigrant merchant, he was educated at the local school, leaving at the age of 13 to take on various jobs, eventually becoming a purser on a Mississippi steamboat. He was struck by the number of wrecks lying in the river; he devised a diving bell and, at the age of 22, set up in business as a salvage engineer. So successful was he at this venture that he was able to retire in three years' time and set up the first glassworks west of the Ohio River. This, however, was a failure and in 1848 he returned to the business of salvage on the Ohio River. He was so successful that he was able to retire permanently in 1857. From the start of the American Civil War in 1861 he recommended to President Lincoln that he should obtain a fleet of armour-plated, steam-powered gunboats to operate on the western rivers. He built seven of these himself, later building or converting a further eighteen. After the end of the war he obtained the contract to design and build a bridge over the Mississippi at St Louis. In this he made use of his considerable knowledge of the river-bed currents. He built a bridge with a 500 ft (150 m) centre span and a clearance of 50 ft (15 m) that was completed in 1874. The three spans are, respectively, 502 ft, 520 ft and 502 ft (153 m, 158 m and 153 m), each being spanned by an arch. The Mississippi river is subject to great changes, both seasonal and irregular, with a range of over 41 ft (12.5 m) between low and high water and a velocity varying from 4 ft (1.2 m) to 12 1/2 ft (3.8 m) per second. The Eads Bridge was completed in 1874 and in the following year Eads was commissioned to open one of the mouths of the Mississippi, for which he constructed a number of jetty traps. He was involved later in attempts to construct a ship railway across the isthmus of Panama. He had been suffering from indifferent health for some years, and this effort was too much for him. He died on 8 March 1887. He was the first American to be awarded the Royal Society of Arts' Albert Medal.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Royal Society of Arts Albert Medal.
Further Reading
D.B.Steinman and S.R.Watson, 1941, Bridges and their Builders, New York: Dover Publications.
T.I.Williams, Biographical Dictionary of Science.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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