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Title: James B. Eads
Author: How, Louis, 1873-1947
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "James B. Eads" ***

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The Riverside Biographical Series




Each about 100 pages, 16mo, with
photogravure portrait, 75 cents.


[Illustration: Jas. B. Eads]




Boston: 4 Park Street; New York: 11 East Seventeenth Street
Chicago: 378-388 Wabash Avenue

The Riverside Press, Cambridge



I must mention with particular gratitude several books that were
invaluable in preparing this sketch, in supplementing the usual
biographical dictionaries and naval histories. These are: Captain
Mahan's "The Gulf and Inland Waters;" Boynton's picturesque "History of
the American Navy during the Great Rebellion;" Mr. Fiske's "Mississippi
Valley in the Civil War;" Snead's "The Fight for Missouri;" Mr. C. M.
Woodward's "History of the St. Louis Bridge;" Mr. Estill McHenry's
edition of Eads's "Papers and Addresses," with a biography; two memoirs
by Señores Francisco de Garay and Ignacio Garfias, of the Mexican
Association of Civil Engineers; and, above all, several memoirs and
addresses and the history of the Jetties by Mr. Elmer L. Corthell, C.
E., without which I could scarcely have written this Life.

I must also cordially thank for kind personal aid and advice Chancellor
Chaplin (of Washington University), Dr. William Taussig, Mr. Albert
Bushnell Hart, Major George Montague Wheeler of the Engineer Corps
(retired), Messrs. Winston Churchill, William L. Wright, C. Donovan, E.
L. Corthell (who was as obliging as he was helpful), Estill McHenry and
John A. Ubsdell, Mrs. Susan F. Stevens, and especially my mother--to
whose help and encouragement this Life of her father is due.

L. H.

ROCKPORT, MASS., July 30, 1900.


CHAP.                                   PAGE

  I. EARLY TRAINING                        1

 II. THE GUNBOATS                         22

III. THE BRIDGE                           49

 IV. THE JETTIES                          75

  V. THE SHIP-RAILWAY                    105




James Buchanan Eads was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, May 23, 1820.
Both the Eads family, who came from Maryland, and his mother's people,
the Buchanans, who were originally Irish, were gentlefolk; but James's
father never was very prosperous. The son, however, went to school, and
he showed early a very special love for machinery, observing with great
interest everything of that kind that he came upon. For a while the
family lived in Cincinnati; from there they removed in 1829 to
Louisville. In those days, when steamboats were the best of
conveyances, the Ohio River formed a natural highway between the two
towns. On the trip the small boy of nine hung around the engine of the
boat, considering it with so much wonder and admiration that finally
the engineer, who found him an apt pupil, explained the various parts
of the mechanism to him.

He really had understood his lesson well, for two years later, in the
little workshop that his father had fitted up for him, he made a small
engine which ran by steam. Besides he made models of sawmills,
fire-engines, steamboats, and electrotyping machines. Except such
chance instruction as that which he found on the boat, he had had no
teaching in mechanics, but worked with the ingenuity of many a bright
boy; for he is by no means the only one who ever took apart and put
together the family clock, or even a lever-watch, with no other tool
than a penknife. One of his inventions, which shows not so much his
talent as his true boyishness, was a small box-wagon, open only
underneath and with a hole in front, which, suddenly produced before
his mother and sisters, ran mysteriously across the room. The motive
power concealed within this agreeable toy was found to be a live rat.

So much is often said of the precocity of youthful geniuses, that it is
good to know that young Eads was after all a real flesh-and-blood boy,
a boy so mischievous that, as he was the only son, his father hired a
neighbor boy to come and play with him. Certainly he was very clever;
but that he had even better qualities than cleverness is shown by his
first actions on his arrival at Saint Louis.

His father, deciding to move farther west, had sent ahead the mother,
the two daughters just grown, and the lad of thirteen, intending to
follow with supplies for opening a shop. Again the route was by river.
Arrived at Saint Louis, the boat caught fire; and early on a cold
morning the family set foot, scarcely clothed, not only in the city of
which the young boy was to be one day the leading citizen, but on the
very spot, it is said, where he was afterwards to base one pier of his
great bridge. On that bleak morning, however, none of them foresaw a
bright future, or indeed anything but a distressful present. Some
ladies of the old French families of the town were very kind to the
forlorn women; and once on her feet Mrs. Eads set about supporting
herself and her children. In those days, when sometimes a letter took a
week to go a couple of hundred miles, she was not the one to wait for
help from her husband; so she immediately rented a house and took
boarders. The boy, as resourceful and self-reliant as his mother, now
showed his energy as well as his devotion by doing the first thing he
found to help her. In going along the street he saw some apples for
sale, and, buying as many of them as he could afford, he peddled them
to the passers-by.

That, of course, was no permanent occupation for a well-bred boy, whose
associations and abilities were both high. Nevertheless his family
could no longer afford to have him at school, and it was necessary for
him to do some sort of work. One of his mother's boarders, a Mr.
Barrett Williams, offered him a position in his mercantile house.
Before long this gentleman discovered his young employee's aptitude and
overwhelming love for mechanics, and kindly allowed the lad the use of
his own library. Studying at night the scientific books which he found
there, Eads acquired his first theoretical knowledge of engineering. In
this way, without teachers, he began, in a time when there was no free
higher education, to educate himself; and both then and ever after he
was a constant reader not only of scientific works, but of all kinds of
books. This practical experience in helping to support his family and
in getting his own education, while he was still so young a lad, was
the school in which he learned self-reliance. It is pleasant to know
that the earnestness of life did not take all of his boyishness away
from him, for it must have been while he was hard at work that he built
a real steamboat, six feet long, and navigated it on Chouteau's Pond.

For five years he was a clerk in the dry-goods house. At the end of
that time, probably because he was in poor health, he left that
position for one that would take him more into the open air. Though his
health was not strong, he was by no means an invalid; for at nineteen
his muscles were solid and his fund of nervous energy was
inexhaustible. So, with the natural taste of a boy for a more exciting
life, he took a position as clerk on a Mississippi River steamboat.
While he had nothing to do with actually running the boat, he certainly
kept his eyes open to everything going on both on board and in the
river; and began then to make an acquaintance with the stream which was
later to be the scene of his greatest labors. If ever Nature played a
prominent part in the life of a man, the Mississippi did in that of
Eads; for it became the opportunity for three of his chief works, and
from it he learned perhaps more of the laws of science than from all
the books he ever read. To understand his life, one must have some idea
of the huge river, which seems to flow sluggishly or rapidly through
his whole career.

The Mississippi River, with its branches, drains the larger part of the
whole United States,--that is, from the Alleghanies on the east to the
Rockies on the west. The main stream, 4200 miles long, and in some
places over a mile wide, flows along with tremendous force, ceaselessly
eating away its yellow clay banks. The water, full of sediment, is of a
thick dull brown color. The clay that it washes off in the bends it
deposits on the juts of land, thus forming greater and greater curves;
so that often the distance between two points is very much less by land
than by water. Sometimes there are only a few yards across the neck of
a peninsula, around which the channel distance is many miles; and on
one side the level of the river is several feet higher than on the
other. Gradually the water keeps eating its way, until it forces a
passage through the neck, and then the torrent rushes through in a
cascade, with a roar that can be heard for miles. The banks dissolve
like sugar, and the next day steamboats can cross where the day before
were fields and may be houses. Besides this, the current is constantly
washing away and building up not only hidden bars on the river bottom,
but even islands above its surface. In the fall and in the spring it
rises with such terrifying rapidity that some years it quickly
overflows its banks in certain reaches till it is sixty miles wide.
Houses and trees torn from their places, and wrecks of boats, float or
protrude from the bottom of this brown lake. And when the flood
subsides, the current often chooses a new and changed channel. Amid the
ever-varying dangers of such a river the only safety for steamboats is
in a race of pilots so learned and so alert as to have the shifting
bars and courses always in their minds. In 1839, when steamboats were
the only means of rapid transit in the West, when there were more of
them in the harbor of the little town of Saint Louis than to-day when
it is a great city, this class of pilots was a large and a very
respectable one. Much of their knowledge of the river was what young
Eads learned while he was a clerk among them; and as time went on, he
came to realize that although the Mississippi seems so capricious in
its terrible games that one would think them the result of chance, yet
in truth, they "are controlled by laws as immutable as the Creator."

Despite all care that could be used, steamboats were every week sunk
and wrecked, and with their valuable engines, boilers, and cargoes were
often left where they lay in the ceaseless brown current. After he had
been for three years on the river, Eads gave up his clerkship to go
into the business of raising these boats, their machinery, and their
freight. In 1842, at the age of twenty-two, he formed a partnership
with Case & Nelson, boat-builders. His first appearance in the new
business was an experience that well shows his quick inventive genius,
his persistency, and his courage. While his diving-bell boat was
building, a barge loaded with pig-lead sank in the rapids at Keokuk,
212 miles from Saint Louis. A contract having been made with its
owners, Eads hurried up there to rescue the freight from fifteen feet
of water. He had no knowledge himself of diving-armor; but he had
engaged a skilled diver from the Great Lakes, who brought his own
apparatus. They set out in a barge and anchored over the wreck; but,
once there, they soon discovered that the current was so exceedingly
rapid that the diver could do nothing in it. Eads at once returned to
Keokuk, and, buying a forty-gallon whiskey hogshead, took it out to the
wreck; and having knocked out one head, he slung pigs of lead round his
improvised diving-bell, made a seat inside it, rigged it to his derrick
and air-pumps, and then asked the diver to go down in it. The diver
having very naturally refused, Eads on the spot set himself a precedent
which, during his after life, he never broke,--saying that he would not
ask an employee to go where he would not trust himself, he got inside
his hogshead and was lowered into the river. His assistants were unused
to managing diving-bells, and when they came to haul him up the derrick
got out of order. By main force they were able to raise the hogshead to
the surface, but not above it. As the air-pump continued to work all
the while, Eads, though wondering what was amiss, sat patiently in his
place, till finally he saw a hand appear under the rim of the hogshead.
Seizing this, he ducked under and got out. Although the rough
diving-bell worked thus awkwardly at first, it served well enough, and
finally all of the lost freight was saved.

A young man so fearless, so energetic, and so able to invent mechanical
devices at sudden need, was bound to succeed in a business like this.
And young Eads did succeed. "Fortune," he believed, "favors the brave;"
and his motto was, "Drive on!"

The insurance companies were willing to give the wreckers a large
interest, sometimes as much as a half, of the rescued cargoes; and
there was a law by which a vessel or freight that had been wrecked for
five years belonged to whoever could get it up. Eads and his partners
worked up and down the river for hundreds of miles. The first
diving-bell boat was followed by a larger one, provided with machinery
for pumping out sand, and for raising whole hulls. While in this
hazardous business Eads invented many new appliances for use in its
various branches. Because he was in charge of a boat people began to
call the young wrecker Captain Eads, and that was the only reason for a
title which clung to him always. He grew now to know the river as few
have ever known it,--his operations extended from Galena, Illinois, to
the Balize at the river's very mouth, and even into the tributaries of
the Mississippi,--and he used to say that there was not a stretch of
fifty miles in the twelve hundred between Saint Louis and New Orleans
in which he had not stood on the bottom under his diving-bell.

With the same devotion to his parents as when he peddled the apples in
the street, Eads now bought them a farm in Iowa, and provided in every
way he could for their comfort. But beyond the ordinary desire of
making a fortune for them, for himself, and for a new interest that was
coming into his life, it does not appear that there were in his mind
any unusual ambitions, any of the dreams of genius. As yet he was only
a hard-working, earnest young man, extraordinarily clever to be sure,
but founding on that cleverness no visions of great renown in the
future. Perhaps this was because he had enough to dream of in the
present, enough hopes of purely domestic happiness to look towards. For
he had fallen in love with a Miss Martha Dillon, a young lady of about
his own age, daughter of a rich man in Saint Louis. The father
disapproved of the match, not only because he thought the suitor too
young, too poor, too unknown, but because he wished to keep his
daughter with him, and for other less reasonable causes.

The letters between the engaged couple show Eads at twenty-five as a
keen, experienced, and yet an unsophisticated young man; generous,
proud, brave, and courteous; a lover of Nature, of poetry, of people,
and of good books; an inveterate early riser; reverend in religion, and
yet, while nominally a Catholic, really a free-thinker; sentimental in
his feelings almost as if he had lived a century sooner, and at the
same time controlling his true and deep emotions, and showing his
strong love only to those he loved.

At last Eads and Miss Dillon were married, he being over twenty-five at
the time, she nearly twenty-four. Eads then sold out his wrecking
business and left the river. He probably made this change because he
hoped thereby not only to be more with his wife, but also to support
her in the comfort she had been used to, and to show her father that he
could do so. The new enterprise, into which at least one of his old
partners entered with him, and into which he put all his money, was the
manufacture of glass; and they built the first glass factory west of
the Ohio River. He had to go to Pittsburg--then a long journey by boat,
stage, and rail--to get trained workmen and to learn the process
himself. Almost all of the necessary ingredients and apparatus had to
be sent for to Pittsburg, to Cleveland, or to New York; and they were
often slow in arriving and thereby made matters drag considerably.
Still there was always something to do, and Eads, the only one of the
partners who understood the trade, was forced to work extraordinarily
hard. With his usual persistence he stuck to it pluckily, often staying
up late into the night and rising the next day before dawn to oversee
operations. He was also indispensable for his faculty of managing men;
and a letter to his wife written on his twenty-seventh birthday (1847)
shows how strong the man already was in that power of getting the most
from a workman, which was afterwards to count for so much in his best
work. An employer, he says, must "have constant control of his temper,
and be able to speak pleasantly to one man the next moment after having
spoken in the harshest manner to another, and even to give the same man
a pleasant reply a few minutes after having corrected him. Self must be
left out of the matter entirely, and a man or boy spoken to only as
concerns his conduct; and the authority which the controller has over
the controlled, used only when absolutely necessary, and then with the
utmost promptness."

However, despite all his firmness and perseverance, the difficulties of
the glassworks became greater and greater; and at last, after having
been run two years, they were shut down. Eads was left with debts of
$25,000. The very unusual action of his creditors in this crisis shows
what confidence they had in his integrity and in his ability; for they
advanced him $1500 with which to go back into the wrecking business,
and he at once rejoined his former partners. He now worked harder, if
possible, than ever; for he felt, as he wrote to his wife, that "with a
man in debt it cannot be said that his time is his own." Powerful as he
was physically, his health was not good, but even in sickness he
scarcely ceased to toil during the first year or two; and at the end of
ten years, not only had all his debts been long since paid, but his
firm was worth half a million dollars.

Work, however, was to him only a means to an end. The real dignity of
character he knew to lie in culture. To a small boy he sends, in one of
his letters, the message that he should "be a good boy and study hard,
as that is the only way to be respected when he is grown." Even in his
amusements his mind sought occupation: we find him at night on the
diving-bell boat playing chess, and in later years he had become
unusually adept at that game.

The wrecking business was full of life and action. Here and there, up
and down the river, and into its branches, wherever a boat was wrecked
or burned or run aground, the Submarine hurried off to reach the spot
before other wreckers. Under their bell the divers got at the engines,
boilers, and freight, while the pumps, worked from above, cleared away
the sand; and sometimes by means of great chains and derricks the very
hull itself would be lifted and towed ashore. But on that huge river,
which at times would suddenly rise three feet in a single night, and
whose strong current played such giant pranks as turning over a wreck
in the chains that were raising it, there was need of eternal vigilance
and agility. However, Eads was more on his own ground on the river than
on the shore, and his business so increased that he was soon running
four diving-bell boats. In 1849 twenty-nine boats were burned at the
levee in Saint Louis in one big fire, and most of their remains were
removed by him. Winter as well as summer the work went on; and the task
of cutting out a vessel wrecked in an ice-gorge, or of raising one from
beneath the ice, must have been as trying as walking the river bottom
in search of a wreck. Eads himself, years later, thus describes one of
his many experiences: "Five miles below Cairo, I searched the river
bottom for the wreck of the Neptune, for more than sixty days, and in a
distance of three miles. My boat was held by a long anchor line, and
was swung from side to side of the channel, over a distance of 500
feet, by side anchor lines, while I walked on the river bottom under
the bell across the channel. The boat was then dropped twenty feet
farther down stream, and I then walked back again as she was hauled
towards the other shore. In this way I walked on the bottom four hours
at least, every day (Sundays excepted) during that time." For a day's
work the city of Saint Louis gave him $80, out of which he paid his own
workmen. He was so prosperous that, as he wrote to his wife, there was
no need for him to join the rush to California to get gold; and his
success caused much envy among his rivals. He began to clear the
channel of the Mississippi from some of its obstructions and to improve
the harbor of Saint Louis.

In 1856 he knew his work so well that he went to Washington and
proposed to Congress to remove all the snags and wrecks from the
Western rivers,--the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Arkansas, and the
Ohio,--and to keep their channels open for a term of years. A bill to
that purpose passed the House, but in the Senate it was defeated by
Jefferson Davis and others. The next year, on account of poor health,
Eads retired from business, but he carried with him a fortune. He had
not succeeded in his purpose at Washington, but his name was known
there and remembered.

Meanwhile his wife had died, and two years later he had married the
widow of a first cousin. With his second wife he made his first trip to
Europe,--the first of very many he was destined to make. In 1857, being
thirty-seven years old, he retired, as I have said, from business.

His youthful hopes, the ordinary ambitions of men, were realized. He
had been a poor boy: at only thirty-seven he was rich,--very rich for
the times and for the place. From his proposals to the government, we
may imagine that he now had broader dreams of usefulness. But his first
proposition toward river improvement had been checked. He had bought a
large house and grounds. He made for himself a rose-arbor, and for four
years he was as much unoccupied as his lively mind permitted. He was at
any rate what is called a man of leisure.

Then, four years being passed, he received from Washington, from his
friend Attorney-General Bates, a letter written three days after the
surrender of Fort Sumter, which said: "Be not surprised if you are
called here suddenly by telegram. If called, come instantly. In a
certain contingency it will be necessary to have the aid of the most
thorough knowledge of our Western rivers, and the use of steam on them,
and in that event I advised that you should be consulted."

The government was thinking of placing gunboats to occupy and to defend
the Western waters.



At the beginning of the Civil War the State of Missouri and the city of
Saint Louis were in a very confused condition. A border slave State,
Missouri contained a great many persons of Southern birth and Southern
sympathies; and besides a good many strong Northern men, Saint Louis
had also a considerable German population, all stanch Unionists. But
excepting the Germans and one or two dauntless clear-seeing men, who
read the future, few persons in either party wished to fight if
fighting could possibly be avoided. The governor, a Southern man, while
hesitating at actual secession, wished and tried to control the power
of the State so that at need it might help the South; and while
professing loyalty, he did all he could to prove his disloyalty to the
Union. The legislature, however, would not pass a bill to arm the
State, thereby, says an historian, causing the South to sustain "a
defeat more disastrous to its independence than any which thereafter
befell its arms, down to the fall of Vicksburg." In response to
Lincoln's call for troops, the governor refused to send any from
Missouri. An extraordinary state convention, called in this crisis,
voted against secession. Seeing that the governor, notwithstanding
this, was covertly aiming at throwing himself and the State, so far as
he could, in with the Confederacy, young Frank Blair and General
Nathaniel Lyon, carrying things with a high hand, seized and dispersed
the state militia encamped in Saint Louis, got control of almost all
the Federal arms in the State, and with outside aid and help from the
regular army, chased the governor from the capital, and held him at bay
long enough for the convention to depose him and the General Assembly,
and to establish a state government loyal to the Union.

During all these lively events Saint Louis was in confusion. There were
many minds in the town--secessionists, conditional and unconditional
unionists, submissionists: some who wanted war, some who wanted only to
preserve peace so that they might keep their homes and fortunes safe,
even on condition of abandoning slavery.

James B. Eads did not own a slave, nor did he approve of slavery, but
among his friends and associates there were many who did own them, and
many secessionists. It is curious to observe how little a difference of
opinion on these points, that had become so vital, was able to put
personal enmity among men who were true friends. Of course, among mere
acquaintances there were many instances of bitterness and taunting.
Through it all, Eads, with his rare tact and his exquisite manners,
steered without collision, offending none of those who were not on his
side. And yet we are presently to see what a deep interest his side had
for him, and how much he was able and willing to do for it.

Between the election and the inauguration of Lincoln, Eads and three
other prominent citizens of Saint Louis wrote a letter to him,
expressing their fears that an attempt at secession would be made, and
urging the policy of having a secretary of state from one of the slave
States. And they recommended, for "purity of character, stern
integrity, exalted patriotism, and enlightened statesmanship," Edward
Bates, born in Virginia, married into a South Carolina family, and long
resident in Missouri. A first draught of this letter is in Eads's
handwriting. When the new cabinet was formed, Bates, a personal friend
of Lincoln's as well as of Eads's, was given a position in it, that of
attorney-general. It was he who, three days after Sumter was fired on,
wrote the letter, already quoted, telling Eads to expect a telegram
calling him to Washington for consultation on the best method of
defending and occupying the Western rivers. Eads himself was by this
time no believer in a defensive policy for the government. After Sumter
he had already written to Bates advocating determined and vigorous
measures. So, when the telegram soon followed the letter, he was glad
to hasten to Washington in order to be of use. There he was introduced
to the Secretary and to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

The importance of controlling the Mississippi River was well seen by
the great strategist, Lincoln, who called it "the backbone of the
rebellion"--"the key to the whole situation." If it could be held by
the government, the Confederacy could neither move its troops up and
down it, nor--thus cut in half--could it bring over from Texas and
Arkansas the many men and the quantities of food greatly needed by its
armies east of the river. Realizing this, the Confederacy was already
beginning to fortify the Mississippi and the Ohio with its branches. To
dislodge the rebels Bates proposed a fleet of gunboats. The Secretary
of War, however, thinking this idea of gunboats either useless or
impracticable, showed at first no interest in the plan. But at the
request of the Secretary of the Navy, who realized the importance of
the subject, Eads prepared a statement of his views, embodying Bates's
project. In it he also suggested, besides the best kind of boats for
the service, batteries, to be erected at several points. Commodore
Paulding, on reading this statement, at once reported in favor of it.
Suddenly, the Secretary of War, when he saw that the scheme was coming
to something, claimed jurisdiction over the whole matter, but finally
he agreed to order the same officer already appointed for the purpose
by the Navy to go west with Eads and purchase vessels to be armed. All
necessary approvals having been made, the two went to Cairo, where they
examined the Benton, one of the former snag-boat fleet. Afterwards Eads
proposed the strong and swift Missouri River steamboats. But neither of
these suited his colleague, who at last went to Cincinnati, and buying
three boats there, armed them himself: and very useful boats they were.

The gunboat scheme had been first proposed in April; it was now June,
and excepting these three wooden boats, nothing seemed to have come of
it. So in July the quartermaster-general advertised for bids for
ironclad gunboats. In 1861 ironclads were a rather new thing. France
and England had a few of them, but at the time the Merrimac was begun
no ironclad had been finished in America. On August 5, when the bids
were opened, that of Eads was found not only to be the lowest, but to
promise the quickest work. On August 7 the contract was signed for
seven gunboats to be delivered at Cairo on October 10,--sixty-four days
later. This contract, it has been said, would under ordinary
circumstances have been thought by most men impossible to fulfill. And
the circumstances then were anything but ordinary: it was a time of
great financial distress; in the border slave States the pursuits of
peace were interrupted; all was in turmoil and confusion;
rolling-mills, machine-shops, foundries, forges, and sawmills were all
idle, and many of the mechanics had gone to the war. The timber for the
boats was still growing in the forests; the iron was not yet
manufactured. And so short was the time that two or three factories
alone, no matter how well equipped they might be, were not to be
depended upon. Yet Eads had undertaken to start up the factories, to
gather the materials, and to build his boats in two months. Never were
the self-reliance and the energy of the man better exhibited; but his
keen business sense might have hesitated, had not his patriotism shown
him that the Union needed the boats quickly.

Most of the machine-shops and foundries of Saint Louis were at once set
to work night and day; and for hours at a time the telegraph wires to
Pittsburg and to Cincinnati were in use. Twenty-one steam-engines and
thirty-five boilers were needed. Prepared timber was brought from eight
different States, and the first iron plating used in the war was rolled
not only in Saint Louis and Cincinnati, but in small towns in Ohio and
Kentucky. Within two weeks 4000 men were at work in places miles
apart,--working by night and seven days a week. To the workmen on the
hulls who should stick to the task till it was done Eads promised a
"handsome bonus;" and in this way gratuitously paid out thousands of
dollars. The building of this little fleet has been called "a triumph
of sagacity, pluck, and executive ability unsurpassed by any exploit in
the military or civil history of the times."

To be sure, the seven boats were not finished at the time called for.
That they were all launched within a hundred days of the signing of the
contract is amazing enough, but if they had been built after designs of
Eads's own, so that he would not have been delayed by sudden changes
necessitated when he found weaknesses in the plans furnished him, or
when the designer changed the specifications, and if the government,
harassed and driven as it then was, had been able to pay him according
to its part of the contract, there is little doubt that he would have
had the vessels finished in time according to his agreement. Even as it
was, it was legally decided later that he was not at fault. When he
entered into the contract he was a rich man; and as he was not to
receive his first payment from the government for twenty days, probably
only a rich man could have had the credit necessary to put so much
machinery into motion. As it proved subsequently, the government was so
lax in its payment, and demanded work so much more expensive than the
specifications called for, that before the work was finished Eads was
in a hard way financially. He had been much worried and distracted in
obtaining funds: after exhausting his own fortune he had sought the aid
of patriotic friends, and it was principally in order to pay them back
that he made his appeal to the government. By the terms of his contract
he might have delayed the work until his payments were received, and
might thus have saved himself great distress and worry, but, as I have
said, he realized how much the Union needed the boats. He himself said
that it was "of the utmost importance that these boats should be made
as effective as possible, without reference to how I was to be affected
by delays, ... and that their completion should be pushed with the
utmost energy, whether the government failed in its part of the bargain
or not." Their rapid completion then was a proof not only of Eads's
masterful energy, but of his self-sacrificing patriotism as well.
Ultimately he was paid most of the money for the gunboats, and as a
result of his patriotism won back the fortune he had risked; but at the
time of course it hampered him intolerably to be without funds. He had,
besides, other difficulties to contend with. At least one of his
sub-contractors or head-workmen was a disappointed bidder for the
gunboat contract, and was on a salary which ran till the boats were
finished; and while Eads would not mention such a suspicion in public,
he suggested in a private letter that this had been an additional cause
of delay.

After all, the seven boats had been launched and were ready to be put
into commission by Flag-Officer Foote, before he had more than one
third of the necessary crews ready for them.

These seven, the Saint Louis (afterwards De Kalb), the Cairo,
Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, and Pittsburg, were all
alike. The Saint Louis, as Eads wrote to Lincoln, when he sent him a
photograph of her, "was the first ironclad built in America.... She was
the first armored vessel against which the _fire of a hostile battery_
was directed on this continent; and, so far as I can ascertain, she was
the first ironclad that ever _engaged a naval force_ in the world." In
reading the descriptions of them, and in reading in the naval histories
of their undeniable faults, it must be remembered that Eads "had no
part in the modeling of these boats, and is therefore relieved of all
responsibility as to their imperfections." They were 175 feet long,
51-1/2 feet beam. Their flat sides sloped upward and inward at an angle
of about 35°, and the front and rear casemates corresponded with the
sides, the stern-wheel being entirely covered by the rear casemate. It
was a large paddle-wheel, placed forward of the stern so as to be
protected. The whole thing was like a tremendous uncovered box, with
its sides sloping up and in, and containing the battery, the machinery,
and the paddle-wheel, while the smoke-stacks and the conical
pilot-house stuck up out of the top. Captain Mahan says that they
looked like gigantic turtles. Underneath the water, they were simply
like flat-bottomed scows. As they were intended always to fight bows
on, they were built with that in view. In front they were accordingly
armored two and a half inches over two feet of solid oak. The only
other armor they carried was abreast of the boiler and engines. The
stern, therefore, and the greater part of the sides were decidedly
vulnerable. Their armament consisted of three guns forward, four on
each broadside, and two at the stern.

When Eads was given a chance to alter a boat from his own designs, he
made it a much better one than these. It was a boat ordered by General
Fremont in September, 1861, in excess of the government appropriation
for the river fleet. This was the same snag-boat which three months
before had been suggested for alteration by Eads, and refused by the
army's agent. In this case, as in so many afterwards when Eads knew
himself to be right, he stuck persistently to his own opinion; and out
of the heavy old boat, despised and objected to by so many persons, he
fashioned the "old war-horse," the Benton, which, slow as she was,
Spears, the naval historian, calls the most powerful warship afloat at
that date. As a snag-boat, formerly used by Eads, she had "had two
hulls so joined and strengthened that she could get the largest kind of
a cottonwood tree between them, hoist it out of the mud, and drag it
clear of the channel." These hulls were now joined together; and while
the boat was armored on the same general plan as the seven contract
gunboats, she was so much more completely iron clad as to avoid the
danger that they were exposed to of having their boilers burst and
great damage and death caused thereby. Her tonnage was twice that of
the others; her size about 200 by 75 feet. She was entirely iron clad.
In her gun-deck casemate the twenty inches of timber under the plating
had "its grain running up from the water instead of horizontally, by
which means [wrote Eads] a ball will strike, as it were, _with
the_ grain, and then be more readily deflected. On the same principle
that a minie ball will penetrate five inches of oak, crossing the
grain, while it will not enter one inch if fired at the end of the
timber." This detail illustrates the care and interest with which Eads
built his boats.

The eight of them, Captain Mahan says, "formed the backbone of the
river fleet throughout the war," and "may be fairly called the ships of
the line of battle on the Western waters." He speaks also of their
"very important services." This is milder praise than has been given
them. Commander Stembel said that he had heard them called equal to
5000 men each; Boynton, the naval historian, goes so far as to say that
the permanent occupation of the South was rendered possible by the
ironclad navy of the Western waters. Though the naval battles in the
Atlantic were perhaps more brilliant, he says, none, unless that
between the Merrimac and the Monitor, had more important results. Eads
has been called as potent as a great general in clearing the upper
Mississippi. He did not, to be sure, build the entire gunboat fleet,
but he did build, as Captain Mahan says, the backbone of it; and that
the praises for that fleet, which I have quoted, are not altogether
extravagant, is further shown by the comments of Mr. John Fiske. He
says, "While it was seldom that they ["these formidable gunboats"]
could capture fortified places without the aid of a land force, at the
same time this combination of strength with speed made them an
auxiliary without which the greater operations of the war could hardly
have been undertaken."

These eight boats figured in many a fight on the great river and its
branches. They "were ever where danger was." A month and more before
the Merrimac and the Monitor were finished, the important capture of
Fort Henry "was a victory exclusively for the gunboats." It was the
Carondelet that ran the gauntlet past Island Number 10, a feat as full
of romance and daring as any that the Civil War tells us of. And these
things were done with vessels still unpaid for and the personal
property of their builder. Their usefulness was a great satisfaction to
Eads, and he rejoiced, as he wrote to Foote, with "the prideful
pleasure of the poor armorer who forged the sword that in gallant hands
struck down the foe."

When the Benton left her dock for Cairo, Foote requested Eads to see
her there in safety. Eads, who was so deeply interested in his boats
that on another occasion he was narrowly prevented from going into
action with one of them, gladly agreed. Before long the Benton
grounded. As Eads was merely a guest, and as there were naval officers
aboard, he did not feel called upon to interfere with any suggestions.
But after the officers and crew had labored all night trying to float
her, then with his aptitude for emergencies he used his scientific
knowledge to suggest another scheme. The captain at once gave him leave
to command the entire crew, and by means of hawsers tied to trees
ashore and then strongly tightened, the vessel was floated. In this
case the old river man knew more than the naval officers.

In April, 1862, the Navy Department called Eads to Washington to make
designs for more ironclads,--or rather boats made wholly of iron. These
were to be of very light draught and turreted. He submitted plans for
boats drawing five feet. The department insisted on lighter draught,
but still on heavy plating. So he revised his designs once, and then
once more. Finally the draught was reduced to only three and a half
feet. Eads has himself described his going back to his room in the
hotel, and in a few hours making over his designs. When these boats
were finished they were found to draw even less than had been
contracted for, so that extra armor was ordered for them, and three of
them exceeded the contract speed. At first two boats were ordered,
later four others. For the turrets Eads submitted designs of his own,
but as it was then only a month after the Monitor's fight, Ericsson's
turrets were insisted on for the first two boats, although
modifications were allowed. As the other four had two turrets each,
Eads was allowed on two of them to try one turret of his own, with the
guns worked by steam, on condition of replacing them at his own cost
with Ericsson's in case of failure. This was the first manipulation of
heavy artillery by steam. The guns were fired every forty-five seconds,
or seven times as fast as in Ericsson's turrets.

In addition to the fourteen gunboats, Eads also converted seven
transports into musket-proof "tinclads," and built four mortarboats.
"Such men," says Boynton, "deserve a place in history by the side of
those who fought our battles."

The career of some of the gunboats subsequent to the war is
interesting. In 1880 the Chickasaw and the Winnebago, which were two of
the six iron boats, and both of which took part in the naval campaign
at Mobile, had come into the hands of Peru; and old as they were, they
were used very effectively against some of the larger and more modern
boats of the Chileans.

During those trying war times all of Eads's tremendous energy had by no
means been exhausted by the gunboats. In more ways than one he had been
showing himself a good citizen and a kind-hearted man. Much as his
fortune had been drained by the boats, he still found money to give to
the sufferers in the war. Out of a belated partial payment on the
Benton he at once sent money to Foote for use in relief work, and with
characteristic persistence he sent several letters and telegrams to
make sure of the money's arriving. A month or so later he sent a check
from Washington to Saint Louis to the Sanitary Commission, asking that
its receipt might not be made public. In the letter sent with this he
speaks of the war as "an accursed contest between brothers," but adds
that the "cause is most worthy of the sacrifice." From the niece of the
Secretary of the Navy we also find a letter of acknowledgment of money
to be used in relief. But it was not only to the soldiers that he
showed his tenderness: to Foote, the gallant "Christian commander" of
his fleet, he sent various friendly gifts when that brave man lay
dying,--grapes from his own vines, a portrait he had had painted of his
friend. And even to those on the other side he showed an unusual
consideration. Towards the end of the war there seemed to be no means
of feeding the many refugees in Saint Louis but by levying a tax upon
Southern sympathizers. Eads, who foresaw what bitterness such a course
would produce, offered, in the name of a bank in which he was a
director, $1000 to start a subscription to be used instead, and the
invidious assessment was never levied again.

To his personal friends he was always generous and thoughtful, sending
them many presents, defending them from misrepresentation, and helping
them in their chosen careers. By means of his influence and tact he
procured the release of an indiscreet person who had talked himself
into McDowell's College prison as a suspected enemy to the government.
Giving to others seemed a trait in Eads's character which afforded him
an intense pleasure; and though a man of great dignity, he used with
his intimate friends a charming playfulness and affection. He could be
extremely mild in correcting faults; and while he was inclined to bear
with others, he could be stern. His manners were rather those one
expects in a European gentleman of leisure and high breeding, than in a
former steamboat clerk and a man who had worked hard most of his life.
His hospitality was princely. In his large house in the suburbs of
Saint Louis he received not only the young friends of his five
daughters and his own friends, but also officers of the river fleet and
of the army, officers sent west on inspection duty, and foreign
officers following the course of the war and of the improvements in
gunboat building.

His mind was as active as his heart was generous, and the course of his
life mirrored that activity. Now he was at home, now in Washington, now
at Cairo visiting the gunboats to see how they worked under fire. In
Washington he was busy with plans and projects. An intimate associate
said of him in his later life that he was always inventing some new gun
or gun-carriage; and we may be sure that if he ever was doing so, he
was in those war times. Besides inventing his own, he was also busy
examining Ericsson's inventions, in making improvements on them, in
applying steam in novel ways to the working of artillery and to the
rotating and raising of turrets; in sending models of his inventions
here and there, at home and abroad, to Germany, where the Prussian
minister, a friend with whom he often dined, "wished they could get
some of his boats on the Rhine;" having his turrets explained at a
Russian dinner in New York or Washington; and receiving from the Navy
Department an appointment as special agent to visit the navy yards in
Europe. At home he was just as busy. With his house so full of company,
he nevertheless found time somewhere for solid reading apart from his
work--the Attorney-General sent him Cicero's letters, and he lent the
Attorney-General King Alfred's works. There is a curious interest in
knowing what two men so engrossed, and upon such necessary duties, were
reading at such a time. While he was building the second batch of
gunboats, he wrote to Bates in a personal letter that he believed he
had the most complete and convenient works in the country for iron
boat-building; that there and in other places he had as many as seventy
blacksmith fires at work for him, and that his men were all sheltered
from sun and rain. After those boats were finished, he went on planning
others, and we have a letter from Farragut in which the admiral asks if
some of them are not for his use at Mobile.

Eads, by this period in his strenuous life, knew a great many men, all
of whom he treated with a uniform dignity and courtesy, even when they
were unfriendly, and a few of whom he was on the most intimate terms
with. Among all of them he was admired; perhaps already he was as
prominent a citizen as there was in Saint Louis, and as it was still in
the good old times when the mayoralty there was a high honor to the
best men, it was suggested to him that he hold the office. Nor was this
the first honor offered to be thrust upon him; early in the war Bates
had wanted him appointed commissary of subsistence at Saint Louis, and
though it was unusual to appoint a civilian to that position, Lincoln
had been willing to do it to oblige Bates,--but Eads had not wished it.
More than a year later he was given a commission of lieutenant-colonel
by the governor, but he was never sworn in. Like all men in those
troublous times, he took a peculiar interest in politics; and on being
asked privately in a joint letter from the editors of three Saint Louis
papers (two of them German) exactly what his politics were, he replied
that he was as strongly in favor of emancipation as he was opposed to
slavery, and that he believed in no "kid-glove policy;" but he remarked
incidentally that if he were to be offered the mayoralty he should
refuse it.

His work was for the whole country. While he was still too much
engrossed with his turrets and his plans for new boats, he fell very
ill. Indeed there can be no question that he sacrificed his health to
build the gunboats. Never very robust, he was now so ill that eight
doctors gave him up. His indomitable spirit pulled him through, but he
was ordered away from his workshop to Europe, he and his family. His
overburden of labor had crushed him,--before this his eyes had been
tired out. Bates charged him to take care of himself; "the country
can't spare you," he said "and I can't spare you."

Unless Bates was a prophet, we may well think the first of these
statements unduly strong. To be sure, when in a crucial moment the
gunboats were needed, and needed quickly, Eads's unparalleled haste in
building them certainly did an inestimable service to the country. But
so far in his career,--and he was over forty,--while he had shown a
marked inventive talent, he had not as yet made clear his signal genius
for engineering. And although he had exhibited wonderful executive
ability and such true patriotism as made him a valued citizen, he had
still to render himself indispensable to the development of the nation.



Eads was bred to the Mississippi. He had mastered its secrets by hard
experience; he had worked in successful opposition to its great wayward
forces. But he was not to be content till he had tamed it, till he had
saddled it, and, wild as it will always be, had made it nevertheless
subservient to him. To his quietly stubborn spirit there was a
delightful invigoration in using his brain to conquer the brute force
of this capricious monster. For the river is the grandest power between
our two oceans. Niagara is more sublime; but Niagara is constant, and
therefore its immense strength has been easily set to a task. The
Mississippi is so irregular that one tends unconsciously to personify
it by calling it tricky. To find the causes of its sudden changes one
must go back hundreds of miles to the mountains east and west. Seeming
to delight in destruction, it tears down or eats away the checks that
are put upon it. Only a mind never discouraged, a mind capable of
discovering and comprehending the laws that after all underlie the
apparently blind and brutal jests of this untiring giant, can, by the
use of those very laws, tame it. And such a mind Eads had. "That
everlasting brain of yours will wear out three bodies," said one

Though indeed his body was strong, with iron muscles and a fierce
nervous energy, yet it was not a big body, and his health was weak.
Again and again he worked beyond his strength, and only on the absolute
order of his doctors would he go away from his work and rest. But he
could not entirely rest. His brain would work. In his health tours to
Europe he was always open to new ideas, always studying new methods to
carry back to his task. "Your recreation," some one wrote him, "is
Monitor discussions with Captain Ericsson." Another recreation was
chess. Had he not elected to be the leading engineer of his day, he
might have been the chess champion. This game, never one for the
slothful and unthinking, he made even more exacting than usual. He
would play several games at the same time; or, without seeing the board
which his opponent used, he would carry the game in his head. Though it
was his nature not to like to be beaten, yet he was as kindly as he was
set in his purpose; and it was also his nature to take defeat
gracefully: defeat seldom came. "Never let even a pawn be taken," he
gave me, a small boy, as a rule for the game. Even in little things he
liked thoroughness,--a capacity for painstaking which is, I think,
characteristic of the "thoroughbred."

His appearance showed his traits. Not tall, and rather slight, he was
always dignified. His wide and thin-lipped mouth shut so emphatically
that it made plain his intention to do, in spite of all, what he
believed could and should be done. Some one said that it was a hundred
horse-power mouth. It admitted no trifling. When it spoke seriously, it
spoke finally. But his eyes, with their merry twinkle, showed that he
could also speak humorously. He was indeed a famous story-teller, fond
of all sorts of riddles and jests, and remembering all of them he
heard. He used often to point his arguments with an anecdote, always a
fresh one. Believing with Lamb that a man should enjoy his own stories,
he would laugh at his in a most infectious way, till he was red in the
face. Indeed, he was the larger half of his stories. His face was
thoughtful and stern. Though he seldom found fault, he never did more
than once; but he was by no means violent. His mildness was more
forcible than anger. He wore a full beard, but no mustache, thus
exhibiting his long, determined lip. At forty he was already bald, and
after he was sixty he always wore indoors a black skull-cap.
Scrupulously cleanly, in his dress he was point-device. Without the
least ostentation, his clothes were invariably faultless. From young
manhood he had thought that it is due to one's self and to one's
friends to look one's best; and he had also realized the practical
value of a good appearance. Often impressing this on his wife and
daughters, he would have them at all times well dressed. Really he
seems to have been a point too precise. He was just the opposite to
those geniuses whose great brain shows itself by a sloppy exterior.
Eads was never sloppy, even at home.

His great brain showed itself in its restless activity, in its grasp of
laws and of details, in its fight to help and to better the country and
the world. For it was not only the lusty pleasure of battling with
Nature that made him long for another struggle with the Mississippi: he
saw the value there was in it to commerce and to civilization. Before
the war he had long contended with stubborn currents, and with ice, and
by his energy and his talent for inventing new devices he had become
the most successful wrecker on the river. Abandoning the peaceful but
lively triumphs of snatching hulls and cargoes from the maw of the
stream, he had offered the government to cleanse its course and thereby
to increase its safety and usefulness. In war times, owing to his
knowledge of the waterways and of science, he had been able to build,
with a speed fairly romantic, a gunboat fleet to patrol the
Mississippi. Already now greater schemes for improving this central
highway of our country were in his mind, but as yet the fullness of the
time was not come. Still, he was no longer merely the careful son and
father striving to protect his beloved ones and with no dreams of
broader duties; he was no longer contented with rose-arbors for an
occupation. The grim war had roused him; his years of rest were over;
he was the well-known boat-builder,--engineer, perhaps some persons
already called him,--and his mind was teeming with schemes of
helpfulness. Yet his ambition was not for fame, but to do in the
perfect way the work that only he could do.

In 1867 a grand convention for the improvement of the Mississippi and
its tributaries met in Saint Louis. Even then people were beginning to
see vaguely that the Mississippi Valley is destined to be the ruling
section of the country. Eads in his speech showed that he foresaw it
plainly. He urged the convention to persuade the government to take
steps to improve the river; showing that for less money than was paid
by the river boats in three years for insurance against obstructions,
those obstructions could be removed. There was not one of them, he
said, that engineering skill and cunning could not master.

Two years later he urged upon the commercial convention at New Orleans
by letter the importance of introducing iron boats on the Mississippi;
saying that it was the fault of the tariff on iron that the saving they
would effect was not taken note of. Thirty years later this scheme has
again been brought up. Perhaps Eads was before his time in advocating
it. But it shows how he had the interests of commerce at heart.

His convention speech is a good sample of his style. He was so
painstaking that even in private letters he would insert words and
change sentences and sometimes rewrite. There are first draughts with
excisions of whole half pages, for he sought conciseness. He sought
also a certain rhythm or grace or forcefulness, it is hard to tell
exactly what, since in his letters it often resulted in a rather
self-conscious formality or a stiff playfulness, and in his speeches in
a prettiness or a floweriness of style. He sought too carefully.
Probably in delivery the speeches sounded better than we should
imagine. In reading them, they seem florid. That was, however, the
favorite style of the time. And while, by overdoing it, he often seems
to lose force, he is almost always clear and always entirely logical.
In contrast to his speeches his professional reports are models: simple
and complete, written not faultlessly perhaps, but with a limpidity
which makes one interested even in dry technical details. One of his
most marked talents, often noted, was the ability to explain an
abstruse subject so that it would be quite clear to anybody. And this
he did nearly as well in writing as by word of mouth.

He thus made clear his remarkable plans for the bridge; for in 1867 the
long talked of bridge at Saint Louis was at last begun.

In 1833, when Eads had arrived at the town, it had about 10,000
inhabitants. Though already seventy years old, it had not advanced very
far beyond its original state of a French trading-post. With the
introduction of steam and the waking up of the country, the growth of
Saint Louis was rapid. In 1867 it had about 100,000 people. Despite a
commanding situation, it could be seen that a struggle would have to be
made for it to maintain the leadership among the river towns. As early
as 1839 there had been a project for a highway bridge; and we are told
that "the city fathers stood aghast" at an estimated cost of $736,600.
In the following years there were several more abortive schemes for
bridging, one of which, it is even said, would have been carried out,
had not its projector died. Perhaps it is as well that he never lived
to try it, for until Eads no one seems to have realized how enormous
the undertaking was. Probably few others, realizing it, would have
dared to go on.

In the winter of 1865-66 a bill was brought up in Congress to authorize
the bridging of the Mississippi at Saint Louis. Dependence on ferries
had become intolerable to the people, and often when the river was
frozen even the ferries were blocked. A bridge was felt to be
absolutely indispensable. However, the antagonism of rival commercial
routes was so powerful that the bill was allowed to pass only after it
had been so amended that it was supposed to require an impracticability.
It declared that the central span of the contemplated bridge must be no
less than 500 feet long, nor its elevation above the city directrix
less than fifty feet. It was said at the time "that the genius did not
exist in the country capable of erecting such a structure."

Still, a span of over 500 feet had been built in Holland; and the fact
that there was not a total doubt as to the practicability of doing as
well in the Mississippi Valley is shown by the inauguration of two
rival bridge companies about a year after the passage of the bill. One
of these, which was located in Illinois, after calling a convention of
engineers, who considered the question for ten days, without an
examination of Eads's plans, adopted a plan for a truss bridge. The
other, the Saint Louis company, from the first had Eads as its chief
engineer. For another year there was a sharp contest carried on between
these two companies, confined, however, principally to the courts and
the newspapers, until finally the Illinois company sold out to the
Saint Louis company. Had the truss bridge been built, there is no
knowing how long it might have stood, for the engineer who designed it
did not arrange to base the foundations on the bed-rock of the river.
Afterwards it was shown how necessary it was to do this; but at the
time many people thought it quite superfluous, and on that, as well as
on many other points, Eads met with opposition.

In every case it turned out that he had been right. No one else knew so
well as he the immense power and the waywardness of the Mississippi.
Good engineers supposed that the greatest imaginable scour at the river
bottom in extreme high water would not remove over twenty-two feet of
sand, and it was believed that there were perhaps one hundred feet of
it along the east shore. But Eads had been sixty-five feet below the
river's surface at Cairo, and there he had found the river bottom to be
a moving mass at least three feet deep; and in cutting through the
frozen river to liberate his diving-bell boats, he had found that the
floating ice which goes underneath solid ice, as well as the rising or
"backing-up" of the water above ice-gorges, forces the undercurrents
lower than even a flood does; and he had found on cutting a wreck out
of the ice that she had been held up by the gorged ice underneath her,
which must therefore have been packed to the bottom. Knowing all this
and much more about what goes on under the turbid surface of the river,
he did not doubt that even beneath 100 feet of sand the bed-rock might
at times be laid bare, and he was absolutely convinced that his bridge
must be founded on it.

Moreover, he saw that on account of the exceptional force of the
current in its rather narrow bed at Saint Louis, the masonry piers of
his bridge must be made unusually big and strong to withstand it. Since
they must be so big and sunk so very deep, it was evident that they
would be so costly that the fewer there need be of them the better. The
central span was required to be 500 feet; with three spans about that
length the river could be crossed, and three spans would require only
four piers. Steel trusses 500 feet long would have to be made extremely
heavy; but Eads showed that a steel arch the same length, while quite
as strong, would be lighter and consequently much cheaper. When his
opponents objected that there was no engineering precedent for such
spans, while he pointed out their mistake, at the same time he
expressed his conviction that engineering precedents had nothing to do
with the question of length of span; that it was altogether a money
question. Therefore, since the cheapest method was to be carefully
sought, he determined upon arches,--two abutment piers, two river
piers, and three arches of respectively 502, 520, and 502 feet long.

There were many opponents to this plan; some of them people who would
have opposed any bridge, as, for example, the ferry and the transfer
companies. To his own company he explained away every objection that
came up, as he was bound to do, in view of their confidence in him. He
made the clearest of explanations of the theories involved; and even
such absurd predictions as that his superstructure would crush his huge
stone piers, he took the trouble to blast sarcastically. To an
engineering journal he wrote three letters correcting mistakes in its
accounts of his work. But he seems to have wasted little of his energy
in arguing with the newspaper public. It was a question only of time
till everybody should be convinced.

The most extraordinary care and pains were expended in every direction.
The stone, granite, and steel were both hunted up and tested by
experts, and by machines specially devised in the bridge works, though
not by Eads himself. For his assistants he chose men who were of real
ability and well trained, and to them he invariably gave great credit
for their part in the work. The plans, after being figured out in
detail by them, were gone over by the mathematician Chauvenet, then
chancellor of Washington University, who found not one single error in
them. Most of the big work, such as the masonry and steel, was given
out on contract; and, as was natural, delays by the contractors often
greatly delayed the progress of the bridge. The whole work occupied
seven years.

While Eads had promised the company to prove by careful experiment, so
far as was possible, everything connected with the bridge that had not
already been fully demonstrated in practice, he did not pretend that in
his main outlines he was without some examples. It was in his
development of known ideas and his expedients for simplification that
his genius perhaps most strikingly showed itself. Again and again he
contrived some device so simple that, like a great many strokes of
genius, it seemed that anybody should have thought of it. The massive
piers were sunk to the bed-rock by means of metal caissons. These were
adapted in design from some he had seen in use in France, and had
examined during a trip his doctors ordered him to make in 1868. Eads
himself compared them to inverted pans. They were open at the bottom,
but perfectly air-tight everywhere else. They had several important
features which were entirely original. Such caissons, sunk to the
bottom, have the masonry of the pier built on top of them even while
they are sinking; and workmen inside them keep removing the sand from
underneath, and throwing it under the mouths of pipes which suck it up
to the surface of the river. Evidently the caissons must be filled with
compressed air to equalize the external pressure, which is constantly
increasing as ever deeper water is reached; they must also have an
opening connecting with the surface; and to admit of passing from the
ordinary atmosphere to the denser one, there must be an air-lock.
Before this bridge was built, the air-lock had always been placed at
the top of the entrance shaft, where, as the caisson sank and the shaft
was lengthened, it had to be constantly moved up. Eads placed it in the
air-chamber of the caisson itself, where it never had to be moved; and
thus, as the shaft was not filled with compressed air, less was needed,
and there was less danger of leaks. Another of his useful innovations
was to build his shaft of wood, and another was to put a spiral
stairway into it. Indeed, in the last pier he put an elevator into the
shaft. Moreover, he was the first person to run his pipes for
discharging the sand, not through the shaft, but through the masonry
itself; and he invented a very simple and effectual new sand-pump,
which was worked by natural forces without machinery. All these
improvements and various others seem to have been thought of so easily,
that we are inclined to wonder why clumsier methods had ever been in
use. He described them all in his reports and his letters about the
bridge in a style which is not only clear but actually fascinating even
to a person who has scant scientific knowledge or taste.

One of the piers was sunk 110 feet below the surface of the river,
through ninety feet of gravel and sand. Eads's theories were justified
by finding the bed-rock so smooth and water-worn as to show that at
times it had been uncovered. This was the deepest submarine work that
had ever been done, and Eads tells us in his reports many interesting
experiments he made in the air-chambers. In their dense atmosphere a
candle when blown out would at once light again. This was before the
days of electric lighting: otherwise we may be sure that that would
have been used, as so many other modern inventions were. For the first
time in any such work, the last pier sunk had telegraphic
communications with the offices on shore; which must have been
comforting to workmen starting out to their labor in the dead of winter
with two weeks' provisions. The dense air of the chambers caused not
only discomfort to the ears, but also in the case of some of the
workmen a partial paralysis. There was no previous experience to go by,
but every precaution seen to be necessary was taken; the hours of work
were made very short, the elevator was provided, medical attendance and
hospital care were given free. After the first disasters no man was
allowed to work in the air-chambers without a doctor's permit. And it
is known that in helping the sufferers with his private means, Eads was
as charitable as ever. Out of 352 men employed in the various
air-chambers, 12 died. Eads, with his wonted generosity of praise,
printed in his yearly report the names of all the men who worked in the
deepest pier from its beginning till it touched bed-rock. It is
interesting to note in passing that of all the workmen in the
blacksmith's yard only the head smith himself could lift a greater
weight than the designer of the bridge.

The superstructure consisted mainly of three steel arches, by far the
longest that had ever been constructed; the first to dispense with
spandrel bracing; and the first to be built of cast-steel. The
"Encyclopædia Britannica" called them "the finest example of a metal
arch yet erected." They were built out from the piers from both ends to
meet in the middle; and were put into place entirely without staging
from below,--once again, the first instance of such a proceeding. All
the necessary working platforms and machinery were suspended from
temporary towers built on the piers; and thus while the arches were
being put up, navigation below was not interfered with. This throwing
across of the 500-foot arches without the use of false works has been
ranked with the sinking of the piers "through a hundred feet of
shifting quicksands," as producing "some of the most difficult problems
ever attempted by an engineer." One problem, caused by the fault of the
contractors, presented itself when they came to insert the central
tubes to close the arches. The tubes were found to be two and a half
inches too long to go in, although they would be only the required
length when they were in. It was left for Eads to insert them.
Shortening them would of course have lowered the arch. Eads, who was
just starting for London on financial business of the bridge, cut the
tubes in half, joining them by a plug with a right and left screw. Then
he cut off their ends, for the plug would make them any required length
by inserting or withdrawing the screws a little. Then he went away. As
it would have been much cheaper not to use this device, his assistants
tried for hours to shrink the tubing by ice applications, and thus to
get the arches closed; and there is a popular tradition in Saint Louis
that they succeeded; but it was excessively hot weather, and they did
not succeed. The screw-plug tubes, of course, were easily put in. Any
part of this steel work can be at any time safely removed and
replaced,--another structural feature original in this bridge.

Although Eads took care to protect his special innovations by patent,
he was most willing to explain them with care to other engineers and to
have others profit by his improvements; and several of the mechanical
novelties of his bridge are now in the commonest use, and have been
taken advantage of even in such famous structures as the Brooklyn

During the building of the bridge Eads spent many months in enforced
absence, but while in Europe he always had his labor in mind, and, as I
have said, brought home from France one of his most useful appliances.
During his absence he left absolutely trustworthy and efficient
engineers in charge of the work, and before leaving home he provided
for accidents that might occur. So much work was done in the winter
that great barriers had to be built to keep it clear of floating ice.
One curious detail connected with the bridge is that the Milwaukee, one
of the double-turreted gunboats which Eads had built from his own
plans, and which had been with Farragut at Mobile, was bought now from
a wrecking company, and her iron hull used in making the caissons; so
that her usefulness still continued in peace as in war.

It has been said of Eads that he grappled with great problems in
engineering, and solved them as easily as a boy subtracts two from six.
While this is true, it must not be forgotten that he had not the
school-training of an engineer. Nothing is more untrue than the
statement that he was, like de Lesseps, only a contractor. He was a
very unusually brilliant engineer, and his ignorance of the higher
mathematics served to show his brilliancy the more clearly. Some
persons have said that his chief talent was in explaining abstruse
reasonings simply; but an engineer has told me that he thought Eads's
chief talent was his ability to arrive by some rough means at a certain
conclusion to a given problem, which conclusion would in every instance
be approximately the same that better trained mathematicians would
reach by mathematics.

By the time the bridge was finished, indeed from the time (1868) when
his first report for it made a decided stir in the scientific world,
both at home and abroad, Eads was a very well-known engineer. In that
same year a visit to Europe for his health's sake gave him the
opportunity to interview a French steel company, through whom he met a
famous bridge-builder, and was led to examine the piers of the bridge
then being constructed at Vichy; and it was there that he found his new
ideas for caissons. Going home, by way of England, he explained his
plans to the engineers there, and was by them proposed as a member of
the Royal Society. Even at home, in his own adopted State, he was not
without recognition; for in 1872 the University of Missouri conferred
upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. From the general of engineers he
received a request for suggestions for improvements in guns; and from
his work on the subject of Naval Defenses it is plain that his mind
still found time to run on this favorite topic.

In 1874 the bridge was finished. After it had satisfactorily stood the
severe tests put upon it, it was formally opened on the 4th of July.
The celebrations of that day were the first public outburst of approval
given to Eads's work. And to-day the strong and graceful bridge stands
as his most beautiful and lasting monument. And as even the great
tornado of 1896 was unable to do the piers any serious damage, they are
likely to last indefinitely, and thus make the bridge "endure," as its
builder said, "as long as it is useful to man."

To Saint Louis it has been so useful that while on the one hand the
growth of the city was the cause of its being built, on the other it
has been one great cause of the continued growth and prosperity of the
city. But it had even broader results than that. "It made a radical
change in the conditions of transportation East and West, and it made
possible the Memphis bridge and the future New Orleans bridge."

And in another direction yet it is peculiarly important. In
bridge-building it marks an era, not only because of its strength and
beauty and the daring of its design, but also because of its many
labor-saving devices, the inventions of a thoroughly practical mind. A
distinguished engineer calls it "a great pioneer in the art of sinking
deep foundations and building spans over wide stretches of space, that
astonished in its construction the entire civilized world." London
"Engineering" chose it, while building, as preëminently the "most
highly developed type of bridge;" and says, "In that work the alliance
between the theorist and the practical man is complete." In Eads it
finds its long-sighed-for dream, combining the highest powers of modern
analysis with the ingenuity of the builder.



The Mississippi River is a great antimonopolist. As more and more
railways have been built it has been less and less used. And yet,
because it drains almost every corner of a valley which comprises over
one third of the whole United States, it affords means of
transportation to an immense area; and since it cannot be controlled by
any one company or group of companies, its freight rates can hardly be
arbitrarily fixed. Still, so long as there are impediments to its free
navigation in the shape of floods and bars, it cannot be depended on
for shipping, and the magnificent opportunities it should offer to
commerce are lessened. The vastest river system in the world, it shows
in its various parts great contrasts. One large tributary flowing from
the Alleghanies, one from the Rockies, one from the north, others from
the southwestern plains, are each able to contribute their various
products of grain, lumber, cattle, cotton, fruits, and so on. Some
branches freeze every winter; others never do. Some are clear, others
silt-bearing. From about Cairo it flows southward through the greater
delta, or land built up by its own action in ages past, and in all this
part of its course both banks and bottom are of yielding alluvion. For
some hundreds of miles "the crookedest of great rivers," it varies
frequently in width and velocity and is full of shoals; then for
hundreds more, though uniform in width, it often rises higher than its
shores, and is confined in artificial levees, which it continually
breaks down. Finally, below New Orleans, growing more sluggish, and
dividing into several mouths, or "passes," it wanders through tracts of
waste marsh-lands into the gulf, which it colors brown for miles
around. Blocking the end of each shallow mouth there was formerly a
sand-bar; and these obstructions to navigation were the despair of the
river commerce, and no less the despair of the government in its
attempts to remove them.

Every one interested in trade or shipping realized what a very serious
hindrance to the usefulness of the Mississippi these choked-up mouths
were, but no one realized it better than Eads. Understanding that the
great valley is capable of supporting 400,000,000 people, and intent on
doing all in his power for good, even before he had completed the
bridge he was studying the problem of opening the river. Its
improvement and the welfare of its millions of people were cherished
objects of his life. For some men one great undertaking at a time is
enough, but Eads's energies were such that his works overlapped one
another. It is hard to see how one man can have time, even if he has
brains, to do all he did. But apparently he never lived an idle day.
The bridge, with its many extraordinary solutions of new problems, made
its builder's permanent reputation. At the particular request of West
Point he had supplied that institution with writings, diagrams, and
models. And so far afield had his fame spread that on one of his many
trips abroad, he made plans, at the request of the Sultan's grand
vizier, for an iron bridge over the Bosphorus. A change in viziers,
however, prevented its being built.

It seems as if the river-mouth problem had not always been so
difficult. Still, Eads showed that the bars were inevitable; and it is
probably only because, with the growing population and trade of the
central States, the need for an outlet was greater, that the problem
seemed more complicated. Moreover, ocean vessels were increasing in
size and draught, which also made an adequate channel more desirable.
Although the blockade had forced the construction of several expensive
lines of railway, yet it was impossible to carry all the products of
the valley by rail. Millions of dollars' worth of merchandise were
delayed at the bars. As early as 1726 attempts had been made to deepen
the channels through the river's mouths by harrowing. But the first
government effort was in 1837, when an appropriation was made for a
survey and for dredging with buckets. Again in 1852 another
appropriation was made; and a board, appointed by the War Department,

    1. Stirring up the bottom.

    2. Dredging.

    3. If both these methods failed, the construction of parallel
    jetties "five miles in length, at the mouth of the South West Pass,
    to be extended into the gulf annually, as experience should show to
    be necessary."

    4. "Should it then be needed, the lateral outlets should be

    5. Should all these fail, a ship canal might be made.

Dredging by stirring the bottom was tried, and produced a depth of
eighteen feet. Three years later this depth had entirely disappeared.
In 1856 an appropriation was entered into, but the jetties were never
completed. Later than that dredging was tried again. Up to 1875 more
than eighteen feet of depth had never been obtained, and even that
could not be steadily preserved. Channels, opened in low water, were
quickly filled up with sediment in high water, and sometimes a severe
storm would wash in enough sand from the gulf to undo the result of
months of dredging.

As early as 1832 a ship canal near Fort Saint Philip, which should cut
through the river bank out to the gulf, had been planned, and this
solution had been approved of by the Louisiana legislature. That idea
had been revived from time to time. And there had also more than once
been new recommendations made for jetties, which by narrowing the
channel should deepen it. Finally Congress ordered surveys and plans
for the canal, and then appointed a board not only to report on them,
but also to ascertain the feasibility of improving the channel of one
of the natural outlets of the river. In 1874 this board reported in
favor of the canal, and against the idea of jetties, which, in its
opinion, could hardly be built, could not be maintained, and would be
excessively costly.

This, then, was the situation when Eads appeared on the scene:
"scratching and scraping" were going on in South West Pass, but were
doing little real and no lasting good; the government engineers had
declared themselves in favor of a canal; and though in some quarters
jetties had been advocated, scarcely any one thought they could be
built, or that if they were they would last, or that they would do any
good. Eads, however, understood the river like a book, and he had
studied this particular subject. He now came forward publicly, offering
not only to build and to maintain jetties which would insure a
twenty-eight foot channel, but to do all this for less than half the
cost the board had estimated, and on a contract which should provide
for his being paid only in case he succeeded. From this remarkable
offer his own confidence in his plans may be inferred. A purpose which
he had reasoned out as practical became an inspiration to him which
nothing could shake, for his courage equaled his convictions.

But so bold was his proposition that he was considered a wild
enthusiast. Never at a loss to solve any problem, again, as when he
planned the bridge, he undertook to do what was commonly held to be
impossible. Of course, all the backers of the canal scheme opposed him
bitterly. New Orleans was of that faction. Saint Louis, on the other
hand, upheld him because of his personal popularity and his signal
success with the bridge. The army engineers were against him as a civil
engineer. Thus the controversy was sectional, personal, and
professional. Up to this time the government had invariably intrusted
all works of river and harbor improvement to the military engineers;
and to hand over the most important one it had ever undertaken to a
private citizen, and to permit him to apply a method that had just been
condemned in a report signed by six out of seven of the most
distinguished army engineers, met with decided opposition. So the
government hesitated. Certainly this was a proposal to make them
consider, promising, as it did, an open river mouth, at a cost much
lower than that of the canal, and in case of failure leaving the total
loss to fall upon the contractor. Besides, several eminent civil
engineers supported Eads's theory. The House, nevertheless, passed the
canal bill; but the Senate, more thorough, after calling Eads and two
of his principal opponents to state their views before a committee,
passed a bill appointing a commission to reconsider the entire subject
once more. The discussion before the Senate committee was one of the
crises in Eads's life. The fate of the jetty enterprise hung on the
outcome of it. Fortunately for himself and for the good of the country,
he was a most magnetic and persuasive man. His theories and arguments
were sound and logical, his experience of the river was vast; and
beyond his aptitude for making technical reasoning simple and clear,
his skill as a diplomatist was equal to his ability as an engineer.

So the commission was appointed; and, ultimately, on account of the
far-reaching importance of the question of river-mouth improvement, its
members decided to go to Europe to inquire into the matter. About the
same time, and for the same purpose, Eads also went abroad, and while
there he made a careful study of the works at the mouths of the Danube,
the Rhone, and several other European rivers. What he saw there served
only to strengthen his confidence in his own plans. When he returned
home, there had been a noteworthy change in public sentiment. Though
there still remained many either prejudiced or honest enemies to his
plan, and although the newspapers were still noisy with their cheap and
ignorant opposition, the country at large and Congress were inclined to
accept the offer, which promised them so much at no risk at all.

The commission, returning too from Europe, where it had made as careful
investigations as those of Eads, reported, by a majority of six to one,
in favor of trying jetties in the South Pass. This pass, the smallest
of the three mouths, had a depth of only eight feet on its bar, and had
besides a shoal at its head. The South West Pass, the one which Eads
had proposed to use, is not only two or three times as big, both in
width and in volume of water, but it had fourteen feet on the bar, and
no shoal at its head. Eads argued and implored with all his strength to
be allowed to use the larger pass, as the only one adequate to the
demands of commerce; and so convincing were his reasons that the House
passed a bill which called for jetties in the larger pass. But the
Senate, again more conservative, was cautious in this experiment, and
insisted on the small pass. Finally, the bill went through, and the
grant was made for the improvement of South Pass. And notwithstanding
the considerable difference in size, as well as preliminary conditions
altogether less promising than in the pass Eads had asked for, still,
the depth of thirty feet was to be obtained,--the same result under
harder circumstances. The payment promised, however, was not increased
with the difficulty; but on the contrary was to be a good deal less
than the estimate of the commission. The terms, which required certain
specified depths and widths of channel to be obtained and then
maintained during twenty years, were so arranged that Eads should not
receive any part of his payment till after the work covered by that
part had been finished and approved.

Hard as these conditions were, they were based on his own proposal, and
he was glad even on such terms to undertake the great work he had
longed to do. He at once busied himself in raising money for beginning
the Jetties, and here again his peculiar talents helped him. One of his
friends has said, "His powers of persuasion, his charm of address, and
the magnetism of his personality opened the hearts and purses of
whomever he pleaded with in support of his engineering devices. He was
a most lovable man." Moreover, he was an excellent business man. He had
indeed a marvelous faculty for obtaining funds with which to carry on
his works; and in that time of financial distress such a faculty was
very necessary.

The theory on which he based his jetties was really extremely simple.
He said that, other things being equal, the amount of sediment which a
river can carry is in direct proportion to its velocity. When, for any
reason, the current becomes slower at any special place, it drops part
of its burden of sediment at that place, and when it becomes faster
again it picks up more. Now, one thing that makes a river slower is an
increase of its width, because then there is more frictional surface;
and contrariwise, one of the things that make it faster is a narrowing
of its width. Narrow the Mississippi then, at its mouth, said Eads, and
it will become swifter there, and consequently it will remove its soft
bottom by picking up the sediment (of which it will then hold much
more), and by carrying it out to the gulf, to be lost in deep water and
swept away by currents; and thus, he said, you will have your deep
channel. In other words, if you give the river some assistance by
keeping its current together, it will do all the necessary labor and
scour out its own bottom.

Today, since this theory has been proved, it seems as simple as A B C.
And it is almost impossible to believe what opposition it then aroused.
People were not only set on blocking the undertaking, but they were
actually ignorant enough to deny that the velocity of water had any
connection with its sediment-carrying power. Even if the narrowing
process should happen to give a channel through the present bar, they
said, a new one would presently form beyond, and so the jetties would
have to be extended every year.

However, Eads had his contract and his backers and his ideas and his
faith in them; and he set to work on the little pass. The actual delta
of the Mississippi consists of nothing but water, marsh, and some sandy
soil bearing willows. At the sea end of South Pass Eads extended the
low banks out over the bar, by driving rows of guide-piles and sinking
willow mattresses close alongside them on the riverside. The mattresses
were sunk in tiers, and each tier was weighted well with rock, put in
as soon as each mattress was in position. As usual he invented many of
the requisite mechanical appliances and contrivances himself, and
generally such good ones that his methods came to take the place of
earlier ones. The South Pass was not only the smallest and shallowest
of the mouths, but it was besides more difficult than the other two in
having a bar at its head as well as at its sea end. And although by his
contract Eads was not required to remove that bar, by the exigencies of
the case he was. Like the other it had to be attacked with water,
guided by dikes and dams, which were similar in construction to the two
parallel banks, the jetties proper. The scheme was always to force the
river itself to do all the real work; and though there was, to be sure,
a good deal of planning and building, the main idea, as already
explained, is exceedingly simple. Eads never pretended to have
originated this idea. He had studied many jetties in Europe. He had had
the eye to see that they could be adapted to the Mississippi, and the
skill to adapt them. For simple as the bald theory is, there was need
of the nicest appreciation of laws and forces in applying it, and the
result has been called the greatest engineering feat ever accomplished.
The problem of making the quantity of water needed run _up_ into the
smallest pass "through a narrow, artificially contracted channel,
located immediately between two great natural outlets,"--this problem
being complicated by many "occult conditions,"--has been called, by no
mean engineer, perhaps the most difficult problem ever dealt with
successfully. "There is no instance, indeed, in the world where such a
vast volume of water is placed under such absolute and permanent
control of the engineer, through methods so economic and simple."

To the non-mechanical mind the control of such a multitude of abstruse,
minute, and exact details as combine in the making of a bridge seems
perhaps more marvelous than the mere bending of nature's forces to
serve the ends of man. In Eads the power to do both existed.

On piles in the marsh houses were built for the engineers and the
workmen, and the Jetties were begun. Eads was not able to be there in
person all the time, but as usual his choice of competent and faithful
lieutenants was noteworthy. His plans were approved by an advisory
board of very eminent engineers; and by the end of one year the value
of the work began to show. As yet it was not very strong or solid, but
it had deepened the water on the bar from nine to sixteen feet.

None the less the storm of detraction continued. There were enough
difficulties to meet without this, but none of them was met more
forcibly. It was never Eads's way to attack other people in a malicious
spirit, for he was never jealous; nor did he often deign to answer
purely personal attacks. But in defense of his undertakings, to protect
them and the people who had put money into them, he was ready to fight.
His defense commonly took the form of criticism of his critics, and in
such writing his pen was decidedly trenchant. Probably no man ever
incurred more foolish criticism, and probably none ever pointed out
more plainly how foolish it was. Even "the ablest of his adversaries
confessed themselves afraid of his pen." Besides this parrying of
attack, he was continually writing and talking to show the simplicity
and feasibility of his method; and one man phrased what it is likely
many exemplified, that a few minutes' conversation with Eads had done
more to convert him to the Jetties than any amount of writing and of
talking with other people could have done. Always modest and
unassuming, he was so thoroughly in earnest that he convinced others by
his own conviction.

Never was a man less afraid to work. Years before, in the diving-bell
days, he had set himself the precedent of never asking an employee to
do what he himself would fear to do. And, on the other hand, he did not
hesitate to ask an employee to do as much work as he himself would have
done. His former confidential clerk has told me that sometimes, after
evenings of discussion, Eads on starting to bed, perhaps at midnight,
would say to him, "Now, have that figured out for me in the morning,"
which meant three or four hours of scrupulous figuring or writing to be
done by eight the next morning.

Undoubtedly he could not have worked so hard as he did himself had he
not been able to throw aside his cares and problems when he was not
actively engaged with them. A very sociable man, he liked not only to
be with people, but to be making them enjoy themselves. Thus he was
both generous and jovial. No one loved more to give presents; no one
knew more droll stories and more poetry. Nor was his joviality by any
means a descent; for not only before royalty was he dignified, but in
the most democratic assembly. His was not, however, a forbidding
dignity. Simple-hearted as a child, he was fond of children, and they
were fond of him.

Of course, he kept up his miscellaneous reading. He was specially
devoted to poetry; and loved not only to recite verse upon verse aloud,
but also to read to his friends and associates. As usual, his
enthusiasm spread to others. One old lady has told me that she never
had thought much of poetry till she heard him read it. Burns and Edwin
Arnold and Tennyson were favorites; and there is a letter written by
Eads to Tennyson, apparently to send him a clipping in which the one
was described reciting from the other's poems. Eads excuses himself for
intruding with his tribute, and remarks that both of them have built
works destined to outlive their authors. He says it quite modestly and
candidly, "as equal comes to equal; throne to throne."

Yet despite the confidence of their builder, despite his cheerfulness,
the Jetties were not getting along well. To be sure, they were steadily
deepening the channel, and thereby proving to all ingenuous persons who
were undeceived that jetties were what had long been needed, and that
they should be helped along and finished. But the Jetties were situated
far off in a remote marshland where few people saw them; consequently
nearly everybody was either deceived or was disingenuous. People who
had no business to interfere did interfere. Every hitch was shouted
abroad, every success was concealed or twisted. Concrete difficulties
were enormous. Sudden storms at just the wrong time delayed and undid
the work. The need for more money was pressing, and it could be
borrowed only at exorbitant rates of interest. The newspapers were
clamoring that the rash experiment was a failure; and though, of
course, it was not a failure, still it might have fallen through, when
one day the Cromwell liner, Hudson, drawing over fourteen feet of
water, came in through the Jetties, and they were saved.

Although the prestige of the undertaking was thus established, Eads
realized that his contract with the government was too severe. Not that
he asked to be paid beforehand for his work, but he did ask to be paid
as the work was actually done. So evident were his energy, skill, and
good faith that Congress promptly voted him an advance of a million
dollars. It also sent a commission to inspect and to report on the
progress and efficiency of the works. This commission, while reporting
favorably, advised against any further advance payments. But Congress,
nevertheless, voted him three-quarters of a million more. It is said
that this is the only instance where the government has voted money to
an individual in advance of the specific terms of his agreement.
Moreover, his contract was re-arranged so as to be less oppressive.

It has been said that if Eads had failed with the Jetties he would not
only have destroyed his reputation, but he would have been a
beggar,--though, some one added, he would still have deserved
everlasting gratitude for his efforts and sacrifices. And now he had
already succeeded in changing the little pass into a grand channel of
commerce sufficient for the largest shipping that visited New Orleans.
Yet the violent opposition and the calumnies still continued. There was
a wonderful persistency in the false reports which came from bitter
opponents who would not be convinced. The foolishness and ignorance of
their arguments are almost incredible. But however foolish, they had to
be disproved; and Eads set himself patiently to work to point out the
errors in logic and in physics; and in doing so he wrote what those who
know call one of the greatest works on river hydraulics.

While there were so many men's hands against Eads, it is pleasant to
record that there were also many for him. It was the "Scientific
American" which first suggested his name for the presidency. It
advocated him as a fearless, honest, and forceful man; but the peculiar
compliment in it was that this was a technical paper that upheld him.
The proposal was repeated in many newspapers, but Eads had no more
intention now than ever of going into politics. He knew in what line he
could do most for his country, and had an ambition rather to be a
supremely useful engineer than to be president.

Another of his admirers was the late Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II.,
who, after a visit to the Jetties, first tried to persuade Eads to go
to Brazil to do some very important work for him, and who then, failing
that, sent him a personal letter asking him to recommend an engineer.
And he engaged the one whom Eads recommended.

In 1879, a little over four years from the time the Jetties were begun,
the United States inspecting officer there reported the maximum depth
of thirty feet and the required width and depths throughout the
channel. Thereupon all the remainder of the price agreed was paid over
to Eads, excepting a million dollars, which was kept, at interest, as a
guarantee, during twenty years' actual maintenance of the channel.
Omitting from the count every day of deficient channel, these twenty
years are now (1900) almost over; the results in the channel and in the
part of the gulf just beyond the Jetties have been precisely and
entirely what the projector of the works predicted when he began them.
The bar has never formed again. The Jetties themselves, so far from
having to be lengthened, are shorter than they were originally
designed. In a word, the sole legitimate objection that can be made to
them is that they do not furnish a great enough depth. Of course they
furnish the required depth, and as great a depth undoubtedly as can
possibly be had in the little South Pass. Ships, however, now draw more
water than they did twenty-five years ago, and a still deeper channel
is needed. The best proof of the success of the present one is that the
government is preparing to apply the same plan to the big South West
Pass, which Eads begged to open and was not allowed to. It is said that
in that pass he would have produced thirty feet in one year. But
nothing is more useless to discuss than what might have been. What Eads
has accomplished with his Jetties is certain.

One result of his achievement was a quick improvement in prices. Every
acre, mill, farmhouse in the whole of the Mississippi Valley was
increased in value by the impetus which the open river-mouth gave to
commerce. New Orleans rose from the eleventh to the second export city
in the country. Consequently there was a great increase in the number
of lines of ships going there, and in their tonnage. And as a result of
that there was a rapid increase in railway facilities. In twenty years
from the commencement of the Jetties there was a gain of one hundred
per cent. in the total commerce of New Orleans, nearly all of it due to
these works. This boom has, despite the marvelous multiplication of
railways, preserved the river traffic; and the river traffic, as
always, has by competition lowered freight rates. The effect has spread
to remote districts; and by this reduction in rates and prices there is
no doubt that the Jetties have made living cheaper on the Atlantic
seaboard as well as in the Mississippi Valley.

Even more: in another way they have made living cheaper. The
half-rail-and-half-water route from the Pacific coast to New York via
New Orleans, which the Jetties first made possible, forced the
transcontinental railways to cut down their time for shipping freight
over one half. The tonnage by this newer route has increased
enormously, and its competition has affected commerce by reducing all
rates from the Mississippi Valley and the West and the Pacific slope to
the Atlantic seaboard and to Europe. As a consequence bread has been
made cheaper to all the great populations that require the food
products of the central zone and the Pacific slope.

Another very different but curious change is probably largely due to
the Jetties. Before their construction only very light-draught ships
could safely reach New Orleans; but it was so favorite a cotton port
that many owners would build vessels of unusually light draught, in
order that they might make one trip a year to New Orleans with them,
although the rest of the time they sailed to deeper ports. As soon as
it became known over the shipping world that New Orleans was now open
to deep-draught vessels, a great many new ones were built. Thus the
Jetties, as much as any other cause, brought in the era of great ships.

It has been calculated from statistics, which it is not necessary to
give here, that the annual saving to producers of the Mississippi
Valley brought about by the fall of rates, the saving in marine
insurance, and the saving in time, due to the Jetties, is $5,000,000;
and it is furthermore calculated that the annual money value of the
Jetties to the people of the country at large is, by a very
conservative estimate, $25,000,000.

Even the Jetties, however, were not the end of Eads's efforts toward
the improvement of the Mississippi. For several years before their
completion he had been delivering addresses urging the application of
the same system to the entire alluvial basin of the river from the gulf
to Cairo. People were in despair as to what to do to prevent the
breaking of the levees (the results of which are as "terrible to the
dwellers on those flats as the avalanche to people who live on the
sides of steep mountains"), and the distress and prostration created by
the awful spring floods. Most people thought there were two possible
remedies,--to build more and higher levees, and to drain off some of
the volume of the river through the Louisiana bayous. But Eads insisted
that the requisite move was to reduce the excessive width of certain
stretches of the river with willow mattresses; by uniformity of width
to produce uniformity of depth, and consequently uniformity of current.
This would facilitate the discharge of floods, and would tend to lessen
the need of any levees, whereas drawing off any of the volume of water,
he said, would increase the elevation of its surface slope, and thus
necessitate higher levees.

His arguments on the question are clear and forcible; and it is likely
that his plan, if carried out, would solve the important question of
the Mississippi. But enough money to try it thoroughly has never been
appropriated; and so little effect has patching had, that at this very
day there are still advocates of the scheme of drawing off some of the
water,--a scheme which Eads blasted years ago.

In 1879 the Mississippi River Commission was created, consisting of one
civilian and six military and civil engineers, of whom Eads was one.
But for him the government would not have undertaken, at any rate at
that time, its very comprehensive system of river improvement, founded
primarily on his theory. Besides giving a regular, deepened channel,
and putting an end to overflows, he contended that his system would
reclaim about 30,000 square miles of rich alluvial lands subject to
inundation. For two years he served on this commission: for many years
before he had been working and fighting for the same grand
result,--grand though almost fruitless. "He had no selfish interest to
subserve" in this; "no contract to execute; nothing himself to gain."
But when, on returning from a trip to Europe, he found that the work
was no longer being carried on as he thought it should be, he resigned
from the commission. Deploring the wrong methods used, he still was
most deeply interested in this great work up to the time of his death.
If, some day, the Mississippi is conquered, it will doubtless be
through the means he pointed out.



When the Jetties were finished and paid for, Eads found himself in a
very good situation. Not only was his bold scheme proved to be a
complete success, but it had in the end paid him well; and he was
promised still further payment for maintaining his works twenty years
longer. His reputation was world-wide. He was now fifty-nine years old.
Five years later, in 1884, he went to live in New York. It is not hard
to imagine why so busy a man wished to be more in the centre of things,
though, for that matter, he had not for some years past spent much of
his time at home. There was too much to make him travel. Besides the
frequent voyages which he was ordered to take for the sake of his
health,--and which, as he was a very bad sailor, he said were real
medicine,--he was in demand here and there, in places miles apart, for
professional services; and then, too, he visited many engineering works
in various remote lands,--river improvements, docks, the Suez Canal. It
was not alone that his curiosity was always healthy, but also that his
education--the broad, useful education that he gave himself--was never

We have seen how he refused to go to Brazil. He was also wanted at
Jacksonville, Florida, where the citizens called him in 1878 to examine
the mouth of the Saint John's River, and to report on the practicability
of deepening the channel through the bar with jetties. He went there,
and, after a personal examination, presented a very elaborate report.
In 1880 the governor of California had requested him to act as
consulting engineer of that State, and he accordingly visited the
Sacramento River, and reported upon the plans for the preservation of
its channel and the arrest of débris from the mines. In 1881 he was
consulted by the Canadian Minister of Public Works on the improvement
of the harbor of Toronto, which he also examined. This was the first
instance in which the Canadian government had ever employed an American
engineer. When he was in Mexico, the government there asked him for
reports on the harbors of Vera Cruz and Tampico and suggestions for
their improvement. Although he did not examine these two harbors
personally, he drew up plans on surveys furnished by engineers whom he
sent there; and the work which has since been carried out after his
instructions has proved eminently satisfactory. Again, it was the
people of Vicksburg who sent for him to tell them how to better their
harbor; and at another time he was consulted about the Columbia River
in Oregon and about Humboldt Bay. In 1885 the Brazilian Emperor made a
second attempt to secure his services for an examination of the Rio
Grande del Sul, but ill health and pressing business prevented his
acceptance of the offer; nor was he able to undertake the examination
of the harbor of Oporto requested by the Portuguese government. It
seems superfluous to say that all the reports he did make "were
exhaustive and eminently instructive in their treatment of the subjects

Perhaps the two most important professional cases submitted to him were
those in 1884 on the estuary and bar of the Mersey River and on
Galveston Harbor. In the case of the Mersey he was called in, at the
solicitation of the Mersey Docks and Harbor Board of Liverpool, to
settle a dispute. Appearing before a committee of the House of Lords,
he gave his testimony as to the effect which the proposed terminal
works of the Manchester ship canal would have upon the estuary of the
Mersey and the bar at Liverpool. "He brought to the solution of this
question that same keen insight into hydraulics and the same close
application that had made him so successful in this country." He showed
so plainly what would inevitably be the deleterious results of the
proposed plans that the committee decided against them. Subsequently
they were changed to conform to his suggestions. For this report he
received £3500, said to have been the largest fee ever paid to a
consulting engineer.

In the Galveston case, the same year, he was requested, not only by the
city but by the state legislature, to formulate a plan and to take a
contract from the United States government for improving that harbor.
The government had already been carrying on works there for several
years and accomplishing nothing. Indeed, it was the jetty method--by
this time more highly thought of than ten years before--which was being
attempted, but not in proper form. Eads, after long and careful study
of the situation, made a plan, which he offered to carry out on
conditions very similar to those adopted in the case of the Mississippi
Jetties, but Congress was not willing to grant the contract. Since
then, however, the works there have been altered according to his
suggestions, and have consequently been more successful.

For a good many years, owing to the weakness of his lungs and to other
illness, Eads had not only had to travel much for his health, but to
take special care of himself generally; and yet, to judge from the
following account, in the first person, of how he had spent the year
1880, it seems that his wondrous energy had not failed: "I inspected
the River Danube about 800 miles of its course; and investigated the
cause and extent of the frightful inundation at Szegedin, in Hungary,
which involved an examination of 150 miles of the Theiss River. I also
examined the Suez Canal, to familiarize myself more thoroughly with the
question of a ship canal across the American isthmus, having previously
visited the Amsterdam ship canal and the one at the mouth of the River
Rhone. As a member of the Mississippi River Commission I also aided in
perfecting the plans for the improvement of that river, and the
preparation of its report now under consideration before Congress. As
consulting engineer of the State of California I made a thorough
inspection of the Sacramento River, to consider the best method of
repairing the injury to its navigation caused by the hydraulic mining
operations there, and submitted a lengthy report upon it. On my way
back I visited the wonders of the Yellowstone Park, crossing the Rocky
Mountains in that excursion six different times. Within this time I
have thrice visited the Jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi,
besides my visit to the city of Mexico, Tehuantepec, and Yucatan.... I
have also, at the request of the mayor and council of Vicksburg, twice
visited that city during the last year, to examine its harbor with a
view to its improvement."

In 1884 Eads received perhaps the most distinguished honor of his
career--the award of the Albert Medal. As it came only two or three
months after the report on the Mersey, it was undoubtedly due to that
as its immediate cause, although the Jetties were almost specifically
named as the reason for this honor,--and Eads had not by any means
lacked even earlier appreciation in England. Three years before, at a
meeting of the British Association, he had been urged, nay pressed, to
deliver an impromptu address on his works, both completed and
projected. Nevertheless, it was not until after the Mersey report that
the Albert Medal was conferred upon him. This medal, founded in 1862 in
memory of the Prince Consort, is awarded annually by the Society for
the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. It was in Eads's
case awarded "as a token of their appreciation of the services he had
rendered to the science of engineering," to the engineer "whose works
have been of such great service in improving the water communications
of North America, and have thereby rendered valuable aid to the
commerce of the world." He was the second American citizen and the
first native-born American to receive this medal.

Of course he belonged to many scientific organizations. He was a member
of the Engineers Club of Saint Louis, and for two years president of
the Academy of Science there; he was also a member of the American
Geographical Society, of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Great
Britain, and of the British Association, and of the Society for the
Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce; a fellow of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science; and a member,
fellow, and for a year vice-president of the American Society of Civil

He was now a person whose return from Europe, with plans for river
improvement, and news about a fresh engineering scheme, was an item in
the small as well as the large newspapers. For, since the Jetties were
finished, he had a new scheme,--a decidedly new one it seemed to most
people,--though, as formerly, he made no pretense of having originated
the idea. Instead of resting content, now that he was almost
sixty,--rich, and honored, and frail,--instead of resting content on
his laurels of the gunboats, the Bridge, the Jetties, he was as active
as ever, with the hope of opening more roads to commerce and
prosperity. The publication of the proceedings of De Lesseps's
Interoceanic Canal Congress in 1879 gave Eads an opportunity to
propose, in a letter to the New York "Tribune," his own project for
spanning the isthmus. The Tehuantepec route from the Gulf of Mexico to
the Pacific would be, in the general lines of travel, about 2000 miles
shorter than the Panama route, or 1500 miles shorter than the
Nicaragua. And it was at Tehuantepec that Eads proposed building, not a
canal, but a ship-railway. The proposition was astounding. It certainly
suggested very picturesque visions of transportation; but at first
sight it did not sound very practicable. However, Eads held that it
presented six great and purely practical advantages: First, it could be
built for much less than the cost of a canal. Secondly, it could be
built in one quarter of the time. Thirdly, it could, with absolute
safety, transport ships more rapidly. Fourthly, its actual cost could
be more accurately foretold. Fifthly, the expense of maintaining it
would be less than for a canal. Sixthly, its capacity could be easily
increased to meet future requirements.

In 1880 he appeared before a committee of the House, and in reply to De
Lesseps, who was advocating the Panama Canal, he stated his plan for
the ship-railway. A few months later he went to Mexico, where the
government gave him, besides a very valuable concession for building
the ship-railway, its cordial assistance in his surveys. It was at this
time that Mexico requested his aid in improving its two harbors, and
when he returned home, sent him in the Mexican man-of-war, the
Independencia. The next year he proposed to Congress to build the
ship-railway at his own risk, and to give the United States special
privileges, which had been arranged for in his Mexican charter,
provided the government would, as he proved the practicability of his
plan by actual construction and operation, guarantee part of the
ship-railway's dividends. Although this arrangement would have laid as
little risk on the government as the jetty arrangement had, it was not

Strange and even unnatural as the idea itself appeared, it was adapted
from perfectly simple ship-railways already in existence and in
satisfactory use. Science, he said, could do anything, however
tremendous, if it had enough money. In the magnified form contemplated,
the plan provided for a single track of a dozen parallel rails, and a
car with 1500 wheels. On this car was to be a huge cradle into which
any ship might be floated and carefully propped. The car having then
been hauled up a very slight incline out of the water, and monster,
double-headed locomotives hitched to it, by gentle grades it and the
ship were to be drawn across to the other ocean a hundred miles away,
where the ship could be floated again. To obviate any chance of
straining the ships, all curves were to be avoided by the use of

Nevertheless, many people believed that such a journey would strain a
ship so much that it would never float afterwards. On the other hand,
there is so imposing an array of names of distinguished engineers,
shipbuilders, and seamen, who declared that the plan was feasible in
every particular, that it is hard to think they could all have been
mistaken in thus supporting the leading engineer of the day. It may
easily be supposed that every other imaginable and unimaginable
objection was raised, but to one and all Eads gave an answer that
sounded conclusive.

As usual he was willing to back up his ideas with money, and he had the
most elaborate surveys made, and remarkable models prepared to show the
working of the ship-railway. He preached this new crusade of science
with his customary vigor. So many men were financially interested in
the project, or were ready to be, that it would at all events have been
tested, had not its leading spirit, the very life of it, died.

Even though he was at the same time engaged in investigations so
important as those at the Mersey and at Galveston, Eads devoted the
last six years of his life mainly to this daring and tremendous
enterprise. In 1885, after obtaining from the Mexican government a
modification of his concession, guaranteeing one third of the net
revenue per annum, he had a bill introduced in Congress, whereby, when
the ship-railway should be entirely finished and in operation, the
United States was to guarantee the other two thirds. Though this bill
was favorably reported, Eads finally decided to withdraw it, and to ask
after all for a simple charter, which would doubtless have been
granted. During those six years there was perhaps not another man in
the country who was so able to persuade others of the scientific,
financial, commercial soundness of his projects. If, more than any one
else, he could make a scheme appeal, it was not that it was in any
sinister sense a scheme, but because his tact and his address were
pleasing, his reputation firmly grounded for honesty and common-sense
as well as for thorough scientific knowledge, so that his enthusiasm
was contagious. His enemies might call him a lobbyist, but his sole
means of persuasion were the soundness of his views, the clearness of
his arguments, and the fervor of his wish to benefit his country.

For this undertaking, as for his previous ones, Eads invented many
devices. All in all he held nearly fifty patents from the United States
and England for useful inventions in naval warfare, bridge foundations
and superstructure, dredging machines, navigation, river and harbor
works, and ship-railway construction.

In January, 1887, when his bill was to come up, he went to Washington.
He was in such poor health that he was not able to remain there, but on
his doctor's advice he went with his wife and one daughter to Nassau.
While sick there, he was still at work on improvements for his
ship-railway. He was wont to say to his intimate friends, "I shall not
die until I accomplish this work, and see with my own eyes great ships
pass from ocean to ocean over the land." But in Nassau it was soon
known that he was dying; and still he said, "I cannot die; I have not
finished my work."

He died March 8, 1887, not quite sixty-seven years of age. No one has
finished his work.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In any career there are three main elements of success: talent,
education, work. Eads's life, like that of so many other self-made men,
seems to show us that education is less important than the other two.
But while it is true that he had not the formal education of an
engineer, he had a certain very broad training gained in experience,
and had read hard. Education, after all, is nothing but a summary
method of teaching the lessons of life; therefore, while less
insistent, it is often swifter than practical experience. And there is
no doubt that a man like Eads would be the first to deplore a young
man's failing to appreciate its value. When he himself was young, he
never supposed that he was a genius; but if he had thought this, he
would have striven to be the best-read and the best-equipped of
geniuses; believing that though he might be mistaken about his talent
he could make sure of his culture.

The Riverside Press

_Electrotyped and printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.._
_Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A._

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