The Eads Bridge road and railway bridge is a combined spectacle, situated over the Mississippi River, connecting St. Louis, Missouri, and East St. Louis, Illinois. As young Andrew Carnegie’s folly, he envisioned and financed the entire project. Completed in 1874, it was one of the earliest long bridges built across the Mississippi and the world’s first all-steel bridge construction.
It was built high enough so steamboats could pass underneath it. Eads Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.
As of April 2014, it carries about 8,100 vehicles daily, down 3,000 since the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge opened in February 2014.
History of Eads Bridge, Saint Louis, Missouri
The bridge is named after its designer and builder, James B. Eads. When completed, the Eads Bridge was the longest arch bridge globally, with an overall length of 6,442 feet (1,964 m). Using ribbed steel arch spans was considered groundbreaking, as was steel as a primary structural material. The cost of construction was nearly $10 million. Today, this amount would be closer to $210 million.
Another distinction of the bridge is that it was the first bridge to be built using cantilever support methods exclusively and one of the first to use pneumatic caissons. Unfortunately, the Eads Bridge caissons, still among the deepest ever inserted, were responsible for many tragic instances of “caisson disease” (also known as “the bends” or decompression sickness). Fifteen workers died, two workers were permanently disabled, and 77 were severely afflicted.
On July 4, 1874, opening day celebrations featured a parade that stretched for 15 miles through the streets of St. Louis. Then, since it was believed that elephants had instincts that would keep them from setting foot on unsafe structures, John Robinson took an elephant on a walk across the new Eads Bridge to prove that it was safe. Big crowds cheered as the elephant from a traveling circus lumbered towards Illinois. Two weeks later, 14 locomotives traveled back and forth across the bridge in unison.
The Eads Bridge, which became an icon of St. Louis, is still in use. The bridge crosses the St. Louis riverfront between Laclede’s Landing to the north, and the grounds of the Gateway Arch, to the south.
Previously, Eads Bridge had hosted only passenger trains on its rail deck. However, by the 1970s, the TRRA had abandoned its Eads route, and the bridge had lost all remaining passenger rail traffic to the MacArthur Bridge.
Today, the road deck has been restored, allowing vehicles and pedestrians to cross the river. In addition, the St. Louis MetroLink light rail system has used the rail deck since 1993.
In 1898, the bridge was featured on the $2 Trans-Mississippi Issue of postage stamps. One hundred years later, the design was reprinted on a commemorative souvenir sheet.
The bridge was officially designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, recognizing its innovations in design, materials, construction methods, and importance in the history of large-scale engineering projects.