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Eads Bridge
Eads Bridge from Laclede's Landing, Sep 2012.jpg
The Eads Bridge from St. Louis, to East St. Louis, Illinois, over the Mississippi River
Coordinates 38°37′41″N 90°10′17″W / 38.62806°N 90.17139°W / 38.62806; -90.17139
Carries 4 highway lanes
2 MetroLink tracks
Crosses Mississippi River
Locale St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois
Other name(s) World's First All Steel Bridge
Maintained by City of St. Louis
Design Arch bridge
Total length 6,442 ft (1,964 m)
Width 46 ft (14 m)
Longest span 520 ft (158 m)
Clearance below 88 ft (27 m)
Designer James B. Eads
Construction begin 1867; 156 years ago (1867)
Opened 1874; 149 years ago (1874)
Daily traffic 7,100 (2014)
Eads Bridge
NRHP reference No. 66000946
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966
Designated NHL January 29, 1964

Eads Bridge is a combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River connecting the cities of St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois. It is located on the St. Louis riverfront between Laclede's Landing, to the north, and the grounds of the Gateway Arch, to the south. The bridge is named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads although the bridge was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie.

Opened in 1874, Eads Bridge was the first bridge across the Mississippi south of the Missouri River. Earlier bridges were located north of the Missouri, where the Mississippi is smaller. None of the earlier bridges survive; Eads Bridge is the oldest bridge on the river.

At 520 feet between the piers, the center arch of Eads Bridge was the longest rigid span ever built at the time of its construction (only a few suspension bridges had longer spans). It remained the longest rigid span until the completion of the 525 foot (160 meter) arch of Gustave Eiffel's Maria Pia Bridge, in Porto, Portugal, in 1877.

Extending more than 100 ft below water level, the foundations for Eads Bridge were the deepest underwater constructions of their time. They were installed using pneumatic caissons, a pioneering application of caisson technology in the United States and, at the time, by far the largest caissons ever built. The Eads Bridge caissons were the model for subsequent projects, including the Brooklyn Bridge, which was constructed just a few years later.

During construction, the partially-completed arches were suspended from above, on cables rigged to temporary wooden towers which were erected on top of the piers. This procedure avoided the need for temporary supports standing in the river and is sometimes cited as the first use of the "cantilever principle" for a large bridge.

In addition to its age and size, Eads Bridge is noted for the material used in its construction. Much of the metal in the bridge is wrought iron but the primary load-carrying components of the arches were made from steel. This was the first large-scale application of steel as a structural material and initiated the shift from wrought-iron to steel as the default material for large structures.

Eads Bridge became a famous image of the city of St. Louis, from the time of its erection until 1965 when the Gateway Arch was completed. It is still in use. The highway deck was closed to automobiles from 1991 to 2003, but has been restored and carries vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It connects Washington Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri with Riverpark Drive and, eventually, East Broadway, both in East St. Louis, Illinois. The former railroad deck now carries the St. Louis MetroLink light rail system, providing commuter train service between St Louis and communities on the Illinois side of the river.

The 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.


Eads Bridge St Louis 1874 ppmsca08973u
Poster showing the construction of the bridge in different phases, ca. 1874.
Eads Bridge from East Riverfront MetroLink station, Illinois side
Eads Bridge showing MetroLink train running on lower deck. Light posts for upper automobile deck can be seen along the upper rails.
Eads Bridge 1875
An 1875 drawing of Eads Bridge by Camille N. Dry.
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Toll collection
Metro Link at Eads Bridge
Metro Link train on the Eads Bridge

Eads Bridge was built by the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge Company, with the Keystone Bridge Company serving as subcontractor for superstructure erection.

Because of the increased reach of newly constructed railroads, river shipping trade had declined in importance compared to the antebellum years. Chicago was fast gaining as the center of commerce in the West. The bridge was conceived as a solution for St. Louis to regain eminence by connecting railroad and vehicle transportation across the river. Although he had no prior experience in bridge building, James Eads was chosen as chief engineer for the bridge.

In an attempt to secure their future, steamboat interests successfully lobbied to place restrictions on bridge construction, requiring spans and heights previously unheard of. This was ostensibly to maintain sufficient operating room for steamboats beneath the bridge's base for the then foreseeable future. The unproclaimed purpose was to require a bridge so grand and lofty that it was impossible to erect according to conventional building techniques. The steamboat parties planned to prevent any structure from being built, in order to ensure continued dependence on river traffic to sustain commerce in the region.

Such a bridge required a radical design solution. The Mississippi River's strong current was almost 12 12 feet per second (3.8 m/s) and the builders had to battle ice floes in the winter. The ribbed arch had been a known construction technique for centuries. The triple span, tubular metallic arch construction was supported by two shore abutments and two mid-river piers. Four pairs of arches per span (upper and lower) were set eight feet (2.4 m) apart, supporting an upper deck for vehicular traffic and a lower deck for rail traffic.

Construction involved varied and confusing design elements and pressures. State and federal charters precluded suspension or draw bridges, or wood construction. There were constraints on span size and the height above the water line. The location required reconciling differences in heights - from the low Illinois floodplain of the east bank of the river to the high Missouri cliff on the west bank. The bedrock could only be reached by deep drilling, as it was 38 m below water level on the Illinois side and 26 m below on the Missouri side.

These pressures resulted in a bridge noted as innovative for precision and accuracy of construction and quality control. This was the first use of structural alloy steel in a major building construction, through use of cast chromium steel components. The completed bridge also relied on significant—and unknown—amounts of wrought iron. Eads argued that the great compressive strength of steel was ideal for use in the upright arch design. His decision resulted from a curious combination of chance and necessity, due to the insufficient strength of alternative material choices.

The particular physical difficulties of the site stimulated interesting solutions to construction problems. The deep caissons used for pier and abutment construction signaled a new chapter in civil engineering. Piers were sunk almost 100 feet (30 m) below the river's surface. Unable to construct falsework to erect the arches, because they would obstruct river traffic, Eads's engineers devised a cantilevered rigging system to close the arches.

Masonry piers were built to heights of almost 120 feet (37 m), about the height of a ten-story building. About 78 feet (24 m) of that span was driven through the sandy riverbed until it hit bedrock. Eads implemented a building method that he had observed in Europe, whereby masonry was set atop a metal chamber filled with compressed air. Stone was added to the chamber, which caused the caisson to sink. Workers dove into the caisson to shovel sand into a pump that shot it out into the air so the masonry could be sunk into the riverbed. Numerous workers who operated in the Eads Bridge caissons, still among the deepest ever sunk, suffered from "caisson disease" (also known as "the bends" or decompression sickness). Fifteen workers died, two other workers were permanently disabled, and 77 were severely afflicted.

Eads Bridge was recognized as an innovative and exciting achievement. Eads secured 47 patents during his lifetime, many of which were taken out for parts of the bridge's structure and devices for its construction. President Ulysses S. Grant dedicated the bridge on July 4, 1874, and General William T. Sherman drove the gold spike completing construction. After completion, 14 locomotives crossed the bridge to prove its stability.

On June 14, 1874, John Robinson led a "test elephant" on a stroll across the new Eads Bridge to prove that it was safe. A big crowd cheered as the elephant from a traveling circus lumbered toward Illinois. Popular belief held that elephants had instincts that would make them avoid setting foot on unsafe structures. Two weeks later, Eads sent 14 locomotives back and forth across the bridge at one time. The opening day celebration on July 4, 1874, featured a parade that stretched for 15 miles (24 km) through the streets of St. Louis.

The cost of building the bridge was nearly $10 million ($240 million with inflation ).

The Eads Bridge was undercapitalized during construction and burdened with debt. Because of its historic focus on the Mississippi and river trade, St. Louis lacked adequate rail terminal facilities, and the bridge was poorly planned to coordinate rail access. Although an engineering and aesthetic success, the bridge operations became bankrupt within a year of opening. The railroads boycotted the bridge, resulting in a loss of tolls. The bridge was later sold at auction for 20 cents on the dollar. This sale caused the National Bank of the State of Missouri to fold, which was the largest bank failure in the United States at that time. Eads did not suffer financial consequences. Many involved with financing the bridge were indicted, but Eads was not.

Granite for the bridge came from the Iron County, Missouri, quarry of B. Gratz Brown, Missouri Governor and U.S. Senator, who had helped secure federal financing for the bridge.

In April 1875, after the failure of the Illinois and St Louis Bridge Company, the bridge was sold at public auction, for $2 million, to a newly incorporated St. Louis Bridge Company controlled by the old company's creditors. This group was bought-out two years later by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA). The TRRA owned the bridge until 1989, when the Terminal Railroad transferred the bridge to the Bi-State Regional Transportation Authority and the City of St. Louis, for incorporation into St Louis' MetroLink light rail system. In exchange for Eads Bridge, the TRRA acquired the MacArthur Bridge, previously owned by the City of St Louis.

In 1949, the bridge's strength was tested with electromagnetic strain gauges. It was determined that Eads' original estimation of an allowable load of 3,000 pounds per foot (4,500 kg/m) could be raised to 5,000 pounds per foot (7,400 kg/m). The Eads Bridge is still considered one of the greatest bridges ever built.

Eads Bridge had long hosted only passenger trains on its rail deck. In the late 20th century, however, passenger traffic had declined because of individual automobile use, and the railroad industry was restructuring. By the 1970s, the Terminal Railroad Association had abandoned its Eads trackage. The bridge had lost all remaining passenger rail traffic to the MacArthur Bridge during the early years of Amtrak; the dimensions of modern passenger diesels were incompatible with both the bridge and the adjoining tunnel linking the Union Station trackage with Eads.

MetroLink service over the bridge began in 1993. The bridge was closed to automobile traffic between 1991 and 2003, when the city of St. Louis, Missouri, completed a project to restore the highway deck.

In 1998, the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center investigated the effects of the ramming of the bridge by the towboat Anne Holly on April 4 of that year. The ramming resulted in the near breakaway of the SS Admiral, a riverboat casino. Implementing several recommended changes reduced the odds of this happening in the future.

In 2012, the Bi-State Development Agency/Metro (BSDA/Metro) started the Eads Bridge Rehabilitation project to extend the life of the bridge to at least the year 2091. The restorations included replacing 1.2 million pounds of struts, bracing, and other support steel dating to the 1880s; removing all paint and corrosion from the superstructure; re-painting the superstructure with a rust-inhibiting coating; repairing damaged structure; rebuilding concrete supports; restoring the brick archways; and upgrading the MetroLink's rails. The total cost was $48 million, with $27 million coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. While expected to start in 2009, work didn't begin until 2012 due to labor disputes and higher-than-expected cost estimates. Workers completed the project in 2016.


City fathers wanted a wagon bridge to the heart of town to highlight the best features of St. Louis. Economics required that it be a railroad bridge, but there was no space for railroads in the heart of downtown. Hence, a tunnel was authorized to connect the bridge to the Missouri Pacific Railroad to the south (and later to the new Union Station).

Eads worked out the specifications for the tunnel. It was to be a “cut and cover” tunnel 4000 ft long, 30 ft below street level. They advertised for bids in the Missouri Republican on August 31, 1872. The contract was awarded to William Skrainka and Company. Construction began in October. A series of problems arose including quicksand and springs on the planned route. Also several workers were injured; at least one was killed.

On November 29, the city council passed an ordinance changing the tunnel route to Eight Street and transferring the right to build to the newly formed St. Louis Tunnel Railroad Company.

In April, Skrainka and Co. decided the project was too difficult. They agreed to complete construction south of Market St. The work north of Market was assigned to James Andrews, the company building the bridge piers.

Eads Bridge was ready to be opened after seven years of construction on July 4, 1874. The celebration included a fifteen car train filled with 500 dignitaries pulled by three locomotives that departed from the St. Louis, Vandalia, and Terre Haute Railroad station in East St. Louis. Locomotives were provided by the Illinois Central Railroad and the Vandalia line (a Pennsylvania Railroad subsidiary). The route crossed Eads Bridge and traveled through the tunnel to Mill Creek Valley and then returned.

Locomotive smoke is a concern in tunnels, especially passenger tunnels. Specially designed coke burning “smoke consuming engines” from the Baldwin Locomotive Works had yet to be ordered. News reports tell of passengers coughing and gasping for breath. Construction of the tunnel was not yet complete. Only one of the two tracks was available and ventilation was not yet arranged.

A photograph of the St. Louis Bridge Company’s coke burning engine appears on page 38 of Brown’s Baldwin Locomotive Works.

Many know of Manhattan Transfer where steam locomotives were changed to electric engines for the trip through the tunnels under the Hudson River (constructed in 1911 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, now part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Line) from New Jersey into New York City. Apparently St. Louis Bridge Company operated a similar transfer station in East St. Louis.

In 1875, the bridge and tunnel companies declared bankruptcy. In 1881, Jay Gould got control of the bridge and tunnel companies by threatening to build a competing bridge four miles north of St. Louis. In 1889, Gould was instrumental in the creation of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. He died in 1892, but this led to the construction of Union Station in 1894.

Eads Bridge and its tunnel are now used by Metrolink, the St. Louis light rail system.


In 1898 the bridge was featured on the $2 Trans-Mississippi Issue of postage stamps. One hundred years later the design was reprinted in a commemorative souvenir sheet.

The bridge was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, in recognition of its innovations in design, materials, construction methods, and importance in the history of large-scale engineering projects.

During the bridge's construction, The New York Times called it The World's Eighth Wonder. On its 100th anniversary, the Times' architectural critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, described it as "among the most beautiful works of man."

A panoramic picture of the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River
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