As a national railroad system emerged following the Civil War, St. Louis leaders realized that their city’s economic well-being was tied to railroad access. In response, the St. Louis Bridge and Iron Company hired self-educated engineer James Buchanan Eads in 1867 to build a bridge across the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Illinois. A complex engineering challenge, the steel triple-arch bridge was finally completed in 1874 at a cost of $10 million.
The completion of the Eads Bridge marked many firsts in engineering. It was the first structure in the United States to be built using pneumatic caissons, watertight cylinder structures that rested on the water bed and allowed for underwater construction, and the first in the world to sink them to 123 feet. It was also the first bridge to completely rely on cantilever construction for its superstructure.
The purpose and prominence of Eads Bridge was recognized in a dedication ceremony on July 4. As part of the ceremony, President Ulysses S. Grant dedicated the bridge, and General William T. Sherman drove a golden spike, signifying the completion of construction. Then a procession consisting of three locomotives and fifteen railroad cars filled with 500 dignitaries crossed the bridge from East St. Louis, Illinois to Mill Creek and back to East St. Louis. As the first bridge to carry railroad tracks over the Mississippi River south of its junction with the Missouri River, Eads Bridge provided railroad access to communities west of the Mississippi and was essential to the development of St. Louis.
Categories: Cities & Towns
Subject: Eads Bridge (Saint Louis, Mo.)
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
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Region: St. Louis Metro