Eads designed and built the first road and rail bridge to cross the Mississippi River at "St. Louis. The "Eads Bridge, constructed from 1867 through 1874, 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. Eads was the first bridge builder to employ the "cantilever method,["citation needed] which allowed "steam boat traffic to continue using the river during construction. The bridge is still in use today, carrying both automobile and "light rail traffic over the river. The Eads Bridge is the only bridge to be named for its engineer.
The Mississippi in the 100-mile-plus stretch between the port of "New Orleans, Louisiana and the "Gulf of Mexico frequently suffered from silting up of its outlets, stranding ships or making parts of the river unnavigable for a period of time. Eads solved the problem with a wooden "jetty system that narrowed the main outlet of the river, causing the river to speed up and cut its channel deeper, allowing year-round navigation. Eads offered to build the jetties first, and charge the government later. If he was successful, and the jetties caused the river to cut a channel 30 feet deep for 20 years, the government agreed to pay him $8 million. Eads was successful. The jetty system was installed in 1876 and the channel was cleared in February 1877. Journalist "Joseph Pulitzer, who had known Eads for five years, invested $20,000 in this project.
A flood in 1890 brought calls for a similar system for the entire Mississippi Valley. A jetty system would prevent the floods by deepening the main channel. However, there were concerns about the ability of water moving through a jetty system to cut out the rock and clay on the river bottom. Top officials of the "Army Corps of Engineers lobbied Congress for levees and flood walls of their own design, which exacerbated these disasters, and against Eads' jetty system, which would have reduced these disasters.["citation needed]
Eads designed a gigantic railway system intended for construction at the "Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which would carry ocean-going ships across the isthmus from the "Gulf of Mexico to the "Pacific Ocean; this attracted some interest but was never constructed.
In 1884 he became the first U.S. citizen awarded the "Albert Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts.
Although he came from a humble background, Eads' accomplishments throughout his life earned him wealth and renown. He was so revered that Scientific American proposed that he run for president of the United States.
Eads died while on vacation in "Nassau, Bahamas, aged 66. Eads and his second wife, Eunice, had moved to New York four years before his death. However, his funeral took place in St. Louis and he was buried in "Bellefontaine Cemetery in "St. Louis, Missouri in the family vault.
The towns of "Eads, Tennessee; "Eads, Colorado; and "Port Eads, Louisiana are named for him.
"U.S. Route 50 through Lawrenceburg, his hometown, is called Eads Parkway in his honor.
Eads Street is a street running parallel to U.S. Route 1 Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City, Arlington Virginia.
The American Association of Civil Engineers memorialized Eads with a tablet honoring him in the Colonnade of the Hall of Fame at New York University.
Eads is memorialized at Washington University in St. Louis by James B. Eads Hall, a 19th-century building long associated with science and technology. Eads Hall was the site of Professor Arthur Holly Compton's Nobel Prize–winning experiments in electromagnetic radiation. Today Eads Hall continues to serve Washington University as the site of a number of facilities including the Arts and Sciences Computing Center. Eads Hall was the gift of Captain Eads's daughter Mrs. James Finney How.
Each year the Academy of Science of St. Louis awards the James B. Eads Award recognizing a distinguished individual for outstanding achievement in science and technology.
Eads is recognized with a star on the "St. Louis Walk of Fame.
In 1927, the deans of America's engineering colleges vote Eads one of the top five engineers of all time, an accolade he shared with Leonardo da Vinci, James Watts, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Thomas A. Edison.
Eads' great Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1964 and on October 21, 1974 was listed as a "National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was also awarded a Special Award of Recognition by the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1974 on the 100th anniversary of its entry into service.
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