James Buchanan Eads

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James Buchanan Eads

Birthplace: Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, Indiana, United States
Death: March 08, 1887 (66)
Nassau, New Providence, Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Place of Burial: Plot: Block 59, Lot 217, Saint Louis, Saint Louis City County, Missouri, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Clark Eads and Ann Eads
Husband of Eunice Sarah Eads; Martha Nash Eads and Martha Nash Eads
Father of Eliza Ann How; James Buchanan Eads, Jr; Martha Switzer; Martha Stevens Switzer; Josie McHenry and 2 others
Brother of Eliza Ann Eads and Genevieve Eads

Managed by: Larry Lee Kelly
Last Updated:

About James Buchanan Eads


Captain James Buchanan Eads (May 23, 1820 – March 8, 1887) was a world-renowned American civil engineer and inventor, holding more than 50 patents.


American Civil Engineer and Inventor. He was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Largely self-educated, he left school at the age of 13 to help support his family. One of his first jobs was at the Williams & Duhring dry-goods store and the proprietor, Barrett Williams, would allow him to spend time in his upstairs library where he read books physical science, mechanics, machinery, and civil engineering.

At the age of 18, he became a purser on a Mississippi River steamboat and a self-taught expert in river navigation and hydrography. He made his initial fortune in salvage by creating a diving bell in 1841 for retrieving goods from the bottom of rivers that were sunk there by riverboat disasters, especially along the busy Mississippi River. In 1842 he developed a partnership with Case & Nelson boat builders and devised special boats for raising the remains of sunken ships from the river bed. In 1857 he retired from the salvage business due to poor health. After the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861, he was invited by President Abraham Lincoln to come to Washington DC to consult on the Union defense of the Mississippi River. He was then contracted to construct the City-class ironclad gunboats for the US Navy and produced seven such ships within five months, the USS St. Louis (Baron DeKalb), USS Cairo, USS Carondelet, USS Cincinnati, USS Louisville, USS Mound City, and USS Pittsburgh, and his vessels were the first US ironclads to engage in combat operations.

Additionally, he converted the river steamer New Era into the ironclad Essex. From February until June 1862 the ironclad vessels were a vital element in the highly successful Federal offensive into Tennessee, Kentucky and upper Mississippi, capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in February 1862, over a month before the combat actions of the ironclads CSS Virginia and USS Monitor during the March 8 through 9, 1862 at the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia. By the end of the war he would build around 25 river ironclads. In 1865 Congress authorized the construction of the first bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Deemed impractical by the leading civil engineers, in 1867 he designed and began construction of the road and rail bridge, known today as the Eads Bridge.

It was completed 1874 and was the first bridge of a significant size with steel as its primary material, and it was the longest arch bridge in the world when completed, bringing him international fame. He was the first bridge builder to employ the cantilever method, which allowed steam boat traffic to continue using the river during construction. In 1876 he installed a wooden jetty system at the lower Mississippi River that that narrowed the main outlet of the river, causing the river to speed up and cut its channel deeper, which prevented silt build-up and allowed year-round navigation.

He designed a gigantic railway system intended for construction at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico, which would carry ocean-going ships across the isthmus from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Although it attracted some interest, it was never constructed. In 1884 he became the first US citizen awarded the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts. He died in Nassau, Bahamas at the age of 66. During his life, he held over 50 different patents. In 1964 his Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior and in October 1974 it was listed as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That same year it was also awarded a Special Award of Recognition by the American Institute of Steel Construction on the 100th anniversary of its entry into service. The James B. Eads Hall at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri is named in his honor. The James B. Eads Awards is given annually by the Academy of Science of St. Louis to recognize a distinguished individual for outstanding achievement in science and technology. He has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The Eads Bridge is still in use today, carrying both automobile and light rail traffic over the Mississippi River.

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James Buchanan Eads's Timeline

May 23, 1820
Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, Indiana, United States
August 16, 1846
Saint Louis, Saint Louis City County, Missouri, United States
August 11, 1848
Missouri, United States
March 1, 1851
March 1851
St. Louis, MO, United States
March 8, 1887
Age 66
Nassau, New Providence, Commonwealth of The Bahamas