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Bridges at St. Louis.—Two bridges span the Mississippi River at St. Louis, the St. Louis Bridge, commonly known as the Eads Bridge, from its chief engineer, the late Captain James B. Eads, and the St. Louis Merchants' Bridge, with which E. L. Corthell and George S. Morrison were connected, the latter as consulting engineer. The Eads Bridge, which was the first bridge erected, is the more interesting, both on account of the beauty of the structure and of the boldness of the design, which, at the time when the plans were made, more than a quarter of a century ago, had no precedent. At that time an arch of five hundred feet span was considered impracticable, and when to this was added the necessity of sinking the foundations one hundred feet and more through water and sand to rock, the difficulties seemed well-nigh insurmountable.
The St. Louis Bridge is a structure 1,627 feet long between abutments, and consists of three arches of steel, the center arch being 520 feet in clear span and 55 feet above high water, and the two side arches 502 feet each, and 50 feet above high water. Each of the arches is curved to a radius of 742 feet; the rise of the center arch is 47 feet, and that of either side span is 43 feet 8 inches. The structure carries two roadways, one above the other. The lower roadway carries a double track railway, and on the upper is a wagon way, 34 feet wide, and two sidewalks, 10 feet wide each, making the total width of the highway 54 feet. The wagon way is laid with two lines of track for electric railway service, and is paved with wooden block pavement. The electric cars were put in operation December 5, 1889, and were the first cars in St. Louis to be operated by electricity in regular service.
From the abutments on either bank of the river the roadways are carried across the levee, a distance of 240 feet, on an arcaded structure of stone masonry of two tiers of arches, the lower roadway or railway floor being supported on the lower tier consisting of a series of five masonry arches of 27 feet span each; the upper or highway floor is supported on the upper tier which contains 21 arches. The length of the bridge, including the two arcades, is 2,107 feet and from Third Street, where the tunnel commences, to the east end of the east arcade is 3,000 feet.
Each arched span is formed of four ribs, placed parallel with each other, the two inner ribs being 12 feet apart, and each of the two exterior ribs being 16 1-2 feet from the adjacent inner rib. Each rib is formed of two members placed in a vertical plane, the upper member being 12 feet from the lower member. These two members are braced together so as to form a complete rib. The component parts of each member consist of steel tubes, 12 feet long each, and 18 inches in diameter, joined together, end to end, by wrought iron couplings in such manner as to make a continuous arch of steel tubes. The tubes are formed of steel bars planed to fit the interior of a circular envelope of steel plate, like the staves of a barrel, but with the envelope forming a continuous hoop. The ends of the tubes are cut on a bevel conforming to the radius of the curve of the arch, and grooves are cut around the tube near each end, which engage in corresponding projections in the interior of the couplings.
The couplings are made in two halves, and are bolted securely to the ends of two contiguous tubes. Through each coupling passes a steel pin to which are attached the main and sway braces, and the post, or suspender, which supports the railway or highway floor. The lower end of each member of each rib abuts against large forgings, called skew backs, set in the masonry of the piers and abutments, and secured to each other and to the masonry by heavy bolts which pass through both.
The history of the St. Louis Bridge would not be complete without a brief statement of the projects which had been suggested previous to the inception of the enterprise.
For many years the necessity of some better means of crossing the river had been apparent to the citizens of St. Louis. Even as early as 1839, when the population of the city was but about 15,000, Mr. Charles Ellet, Jr., of Cincinnati, who built the first suspension bridge in America, over the Niagara River, proposed to span the river with a suspension bridge having a centre span of 1,200 feet and two shore spans of 900 feet each. The estimated cost of this structure was $737,566. The structure was designed for wagon traffic only, as there were no railroads in the West at that time. It was considered, however, that the time was "inauspicious for the commencement of an enterprise involving such an enormous expenditure of money."
In 1855 Mr. Josiah Dent, a well known citizen of St. Louis, organized a company to build a suspension bridge for railway traffic. Major J. W. Bissell, who had been associated with Charles Ellet, Jr., in the construction of the first Niagara Bridge was chief engineer. The structure was to have a single span of 1,500 feet and was estimated to cost $1,500,000.
These previous efforts were premature; and it was not until the extension of the railway systems of the country reached the Mississippi that the requirements of traffic became sufficiently great to warrant such an undertaking. Being impressed with the necessity of erecting a "bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis for the accommodation of the citizens of Illinois and Missouri, and the great railroad traffic now centering there," the council of the city of St. Louis instructed the city engineer, Mr. Truman J. Homer, in 1865, to prepare plans and submit estimates of the cost of a suitable bridge. In accordance with these instructions, Mr. Homer submitted a report in which he proposed a tubular bridge of three spans of 500 feet each, similar to the Britannia Bridge, the cost of which was estimated to be $3,320,000.
Nothing came of this latest project, and the only result of so much discussion was a conviction that a suitable bridge would cost a great deal of money.
The first step in the project which finally culminated in the Eads Bridge was taken in 1864. In that year Honorable Norman Cutter drew up a charter, containing the names of such St. Louis men as would be likely to aid the enterprise and the charter of the St. Louis and Illinois Bridge Company was approved February 5, 1864. The bill granting the supplementary charter in the State of Illinois was not approved until February 15, 1865. Two years were spent in obtaining legislation from the State of Illinois and from Congress, and it was not until May I, 1867, that the first board of directors was chosen. The board was composed of Charles K. Dickson, James R. Blackman, James B. Eads, Amos Cotting, William Taussig, Barton Bates, Thomas A. Scott, Josiah Fogg and John R. Lionberger. The directors elected Charles K. Dickson, president; Charles Cabot, secretary, and Amos Cotting, treasurer. Mr. James B. Eads, whose only reputation at that time was that of having devised and operated submarine, wrecking boats, and of having built six gunboats for river service in the Civil War, was appointed chief engineer. In July of the same year—1867—Mr. Eads had developed his plans sufficiently to lay them before the directors. The general features were adopted and Mr. Eads was instructed to commence operations as soon as, in his opinion, it would be to the interest of the company to do so. At the same time an executive and financial committee was appointed, of which Dr. William Taussig was made chairman. This post Dr. Taussig held until the completion of the bridge.
Meantime a rival company appeared, which was called the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge Company. This company was organized by L. B. Boomer, of Chicago, who was well known throughout the West as a bridge contractor and promoter. Charters were obtained in Missouri and in Illinois, and on March 1, 1867, the incorporators met and elected Mr. Boomer, president, and Mr. R. P. Tansey, secretary.
The contest between these companies was a stubborn one, and it finally ended in the Boomer Company selling out to the Eads Company for $150,000 in cash, and in consolidating the two companies under the name of the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge Company. The new board of directors, which was the first result of the consolidation, was composed of Charles K. Dickson, William Taussig, Gerard B. Allen, William M. McPherson, Barton Bates, John R. Lionberger, of the Eads company; and D. R. Garrison, James Harrison, R. M. Rusick, C. Beckwith, W. R. Morrison and R. P. Tansey, of the Boomer company. But shortly afterward an election was held for a new board to prosecute the work in cordial co-operation with Mr. Eads, and all of the Boomer representatives, except W. R. Morrison, were dropped out, their places being filled by Amos Cotting, James B. Eads, Josiah Fogg and Daniel Gillespie.
By the consolidation of the two companies, which took place March 5, 1868 and the final change in the board of directors, by which greater harmony was secured, all opposition was swept away, and Mr. Eads, backed morally and financially by his personal friends, saw the way clear to the accomplishment of the supreme object in his life. It is remarkable that, while the rival company had in its employ six of the most prominent engineers in bridge and foundation work in the country, and the Eads Company not only had no prominent bridge engineer in its service but its chief engineer was unknown as an engineer, Mr. Eads should have been able to inspire such confidence in his plans and in himself as to win and maintain, through the most trying vicissitudes, the support of his company and of the capitalists of this country and Europe. The Eads Bridge, for by that name it is best known, is a noble monument, not only in its beauty and grace, but in its engineering features, to the genius of the man. Mr. Eads had able assistants in Colonel Henry Flad and Mr. Charles Pfeiffer, the former of whom was at the time of his appointment a member of the board of water commissioners of St. Louis; the latter was chiefly engaged in the mathematical and theoretical investigations.
The Illinois charter of the St. Louis and Illinois Bridge Company contained a provision that the bridge should be located within one hundred feet of Dyke Avenue in East St. Louis, the avowed purpose of the amendment being to kill the enterprise by compelling an enormous expenditure at the western end of the bridge. By this provision the location on the Missouri shore would be at the foot of Washington Avenue, and it was thought that the acquisition of depot grounds and the construction of a road through the city would prove insurmountable obstacles. But these difficulties were met by constructing the road under the streets, and the St. Louis tunnel was the result of the Illinois charter.
Work was actually commenced on the foundation of the west abutment, at the foot of Washington Avenue, August 20, 1867. The cofferdam for this foundation was completed November 25, 1867. Unexpected difficulties were met in excavating for this work, in the shape of sunken steamboats, and accumulations of cinders, timber and paving stones, but on the 25th of February, 1868, the corner stone, a block of Grafton limestone, was lowered to its place on the bed rock, forty-seven feet below the city directrix, some twenty feet below the surface of the river, and the construction of the bridge was fairly begun. Work on the west abutment was soon stopped, however, by high water, and difficulties of a financial character prevented the vigorous prosecution of construction until February, 1869, when the company succeeded in overcoming prejudice and placing the enterprise on a strong financial basis.
In March, 1869, the directors arranged for the construction of the two channel piers, and the east abutment. Mr. James Andrews, of Allegheny City, was the contractor for all the masonry of the bridge, and by the middle of June over one thousand men were employed. The east pier was the first to be commenced; the corner stone was laid in October, 1869, and for five months thereafter 'the construction was not interrupted, by day or night. On February 28, 1870, the pier reached bed rock, 119 feet below the city directrix, and 95 feet below the surface of the river. The west pier was commenced January 15, 1870, and reached the rock, 91 feet below the city directrix, April 1st.
The method of building the west abutment was simple enough, a cofferdam being placed around the site, the water pumped out, and the enclosed material excavated to the rock, on which the masonry was built. The construction of the east abutment and channel piers presented greater difficulties, and the method employed is of interest, because, although much deeper foundations have been since placed, the St. Louis Bridge was the first instance of foundations sunk by the pneumatic process to such great depth. In this process a caisson is built, either of wood or iron, in the form of a box of adequate dimensions, with no bottom. The sides and top are air tight. The caisson is placed in position and securely anchored. The masonry is commenced on the top of the caisson, and by its increasing weight sinks the caisson deeper and deeper until the bottom is reached. If sand or other material is interposed between the caisson and the final resting place, the water is driven out of the interior of the caisson by forcing in compressed air, the pressure of the air being increased as the depth increases. In the masonry one or more shafts are left, through which access is had to the interior of the caisson, entrance to and exit from these shafts being obtained through suitable airlocks, which are simply air-tight chambers with two doors, one entering from the outer air, the other entering into the shaft. Workmen are sent down into the caisson, who excavate the enclosed material, which is raised to the top through shafts left in the masonry for that purpose. As the excavation progresses the pier sinks, and the masonry is carried up as the depth increases. When the rock or other suitable foundation is reached, the interior of the caisson and all the shafts are filled up with concrete or masonry. The masonry is supported, therefore, in its descent, by the cushion of air.
This process, though in use in Europe, was first employed in this country in sinking the channel piers of the St. Louis 'Bridge; it proved so successful that it was determined to sink the east abutment to the rock, the original intention having been to found it on piles. The foundation of this abutment was placed on the bed rock March 28, 1871, the immersion being 109 feet 8 inches, or 136 feet below high water mark.
The west abutment is at its base 49 feet long by 62 feet 8 inches wide, and at top, 64 feet 3 inches long by 47 feet 6 inches wide; its height is 112 feet 8 inches, and its foundation is 13 feet below extreme low water. It contains 12,648 cubic yards of masonry. The west pier is 82 feet long by 48 feet wide at the base, and 63 feet by 24 feet at the top; it is 172 feet 1 inch in height, with its foundation 61 feet 2 inches below extreme low water, and contains 14,170 cubic yards of masonry. The east pier is 82 feet by 60 at the bottom, 63 feet by 24 at the top, and 197 feet 1 inch in height, with its base 86 feet 2 inches below extreme low water, and contains 17,820 cubic yards of masonry. The east abutment is 83 feet by 70 feet 6 inches at the base, and 64 feet 3 inches by 47 feet 6 inches at the top; its height is 192 feet 9 inches and its base 93 feet 3 inches below extreme low water. It contains 24,093 cubic yards of masonry.
The effect of the compressed air on the workmen in the caisson produced a peculiar form of paralysis, which came to be known as caisson disease. Although compressed air had been used in Europe for some time in sinking foundations, the deepest was but seventy-five feet below the surface of the river, and while some trouble had been experienced at that depth, it was generally considered practicable to work men under a pressure of four or five atmospheres. There was no precedent for any depth over seventy-five feet, and the best method of protecting the men at work on the St. Louis Bridge foundations had to be learned from experience. Ninety-one cases of caisson disease occurred in the east and west piers, of whom thirteen died. In consequence of the experience gained at those piers, the number of cases at the east abutment, although the foundation was much deeper, was but twenty-eight, of whom but one died, and all the rest completely recovered.
While the masonry work was in progress the contracts for the steel work and erection were made, and after numerous attempts to produce the material desired had failed, the Keystone Company, of Pittsburg, succeeded in furnishing the material. Erection was commenced on the west span, and the first skew backs were in place March 13, 1873. As it was manifestly impossible to put false works in the river with which to support the arch during erection, a method devised by Colonel Flad was employed. This method consisted of building out from the pier or abutment, and supporting the incompleted arch at the required points by cables passing from the points to the top of a timber tower erected on the pier or abutment. These towers could be raised or lowered by means of powerful hydraulic jacks, thus enabling the adjustment of the height of the arches. By carrying out the erection equally on either side of a pier, the tower and incomplete spans formed a balanced structure; at the abutments the towers were anchored back to the ground. As each span was erected from the two ends, stretching out over the river until the two portions met in the center to complete the span, the adjustment of the ribs so that they should accurately meet and permit inserting the closing tube was a matter of great delicacy. After considerable difficulty had been experienced, the two ribs of the west span were finally closed on September 17, 1873, and the problem was solved. From this time on the progress on the bridge was rapid. The inner ribs of the center and east spans were closed December 18, 1873, and all the spans were closed January 21, 1874. Early in June, 1874, the last spike to connect the bridge with the railways of the land was driven by General Sherman, and the great work was finished. On the 2d of July a public test of the great structure was made, with fourteen locomotives, and on July 4, 1874, nearly seven years after the commencement of the work, the city celebrated the completion of the bridge.
The cost of the bridge structure, including the approaches, was $6,536,730, but adding to this land damages, commissions, interest, hospital expenses and numerous miscellaneous items, the aggregate reached over $10,000,000. As a result of this excess of cost over the original estimate, $4,500,000, the company had to default soon after the completion of the structure, and the property was sold under foreclosure proceedings. It was afterward reorganized under its present title, "St. Louis Bridge Company." The original stockholders lost their whole investment.
The contractor for the stone work was James Andrews, of Allegheny City, who also built the stone masonry in the tunnel connecting the bridge with the railway tracks in Mill Creek Valley. The chief assistant engineer was Colonel Henry Flad, of St. Louis, whose co-operation, advice and assistance Mr. Eads had from beginning to end. From the commencement of the work to the end Mr. Eads was supported by a board of directors who had unbounded faith in his great abilities, and were his personal friends.
The first president of the company was Charles K. Dickson, followed in order by William M. McPherson, and Gerard B. Allen, John Dillon as secretary, and James H. Britton as treasurer. Dr. William Taussig was chosen chairman of the executive committee and managing director at the beginning, and continued in that position until the work was completed.
Source:  Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901;  Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack 2011~

The St. Louis Merchants' Bridge, built across the river in the upper part of the city, received its name from the action taken by the Merchants' Exchange, in 1886. It was thought that an additional bridge was needed in that quarter to facilitate the transfer traffic across the river, and the steps toward securing it were taken under the auspices of the Exchange. The first committee appointed in connection with the enterprise was composed of S. W. Cobb, C. C. Rainwater, D. R. Francis, John Whitaker, John R. Holmes, John D. Perry and John M. Gilmore. Congress granted the necessary charter February 3, 1887, and the requisite terminal privileges were granted by the city June 9, 1887. Two corporations were organized, the St. Louis Merchants' Bridge Company and the St. Louis Merchants' Bridge Terminal Company, the former to build the bridge, and the latter to construct the terminal arrangements in connection with it.
The bridge is described as a double intersection, pin-connected through truss, with horizontal bottom chord and curved top chord. There are four piers, all resting on the bed rock, and supporting three main spans, the center one 523.5 feet and the two side spans 521.5 feet each in length; the height above high water is 52 feet. At either end of the main bridge are three approach deck spans of 125 feet each in length. The main bridge is 1,566.5 feet in length, and the total structure, including the steel approaches, is 2,422.5 feet long.
The piers are founded on pneumatic caissons resting on the bed rock, and packed with concrete. The two main or river piers are 12 feet thick and 48 feet long, resting on caissons 28 feet by 70 feet, and 17 feet high; the two shore piers are 10 feet thick by 48 feet long, resting on caissons 26 feet by 70 feet, and 17 feet high. The piers are built, from the caissons up to within three feet of low-water mark, of limestone from Bedford, Indiana; above this, of Missouri granite to the high-water mark, and from that point to the top, of Bedford stone.
The entire superstructure is of steel except the pedestals and ornamented posts, which are of cast iron; the total weight of steel is 10,470,940 pounds.
The Merchants' Bridge is a railway bridge and carries a double-track railway. The eastern approach to the bridge was originally a wooden trestle, and is 4,740 feet in length; this approach crosses the tracks of the Chicago & Alton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis, and the Wabash Railroads in the north end of Venice. The east approach terminates in the town of Madison; from this point to Granite City, two and a half miles distant, a. double track railway connects with the above railways and the St. Louis, Chicago & St. Paul Railroad. At the western end of the bridge approach connection is made with the Wabash Railroad, the Keokuk lines, and the St. Louis Transfer Railway.
The tracks of the Merchants' Bridge Terminal Railway commence west of Tenth Street near the tracks of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad, and are carried on a double track elevated structure, 8,160 feet long, from Seventh Street to the levee, and along the levee northward to Carr Street; from this point the tracks continue northward along Main and Hall Streets to Bremen Avenue, where they meet the western approach to the bridge. At Bremen Avenue a branch extends across the grounds of the city water works, and thence along McKissock Avenue to Bircher Street and Broadway. ~Norman W. Earys~
Source:  Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901;  Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack 2011


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