Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

A Clever Engineer

If you glance at a map, you can easily see what a very large stream the Missouri is, and what a vast extent of land it drains. In the northwest, where the land is high and its banks steep and rocky, the current is very swift. But as it travels onward it joins the Mississippi, which, when swollen by other streams, grows much wider, while, the land being lower, its current flows more slowly.

Near the mouth of the Mississippi, the country is often below the river level, and the waters are kept from over-flowing these lowlands by means of walls or levees built along the river banks. These levees are built of piles, earth, and sand. They sometimes break, and then fields and houses are flooded.

[Illustration] from Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber


After a hard rain, streams are swollen, and their waters are very muddy. But as they flow slowly along, the mud settles along the banks and in the river bed, leaving the water clearer. Being a very large stream, the Mississippi carries great quantities of mud and sand; and, while some settles along the way, a great deal is rolled down to the Gulf, where it drops near the mouth of the river, to form huge beds of mud. Such deposits prevent large ships from sailing in and out, and are therefore called bars.

Although the Mississippi has several mouths, they were all more or less blocked in this way, which proved very inconvenient, as only small ships could sail in and out of the stream on their way to and from New Orleans. The pioneer farmers along the Ohio and Mississippi built huge rafts of the timber they had cut on their farms, and, piling upon them the produce of their land, floated down the stream to New Orleans. There they sold raft and all, and slowly made their way home again on foot, carrying only the money they had earned, and their hunting knives and rifles. So much produce of all kinds came thus to New Orleans that it soon became a large and thriving city. It traded with various other ports in this country and in Europe, and before long many vessels laden with cotton, sugar, lumber, and rice sailed out of the Mississippi, and came back with goods from abroad.

The mud banks and sand bars proved a great hindrance even to these vessels, which often stuck fast there for hours or days. And although channels were cut, and the river bed dredged, the mud soon choked up the passages again, and all the money was spent in vain. People, therefore, began to wish that a way could be found to open a channel which would remain clear, and many clever engineers tried to think of a good plan.

At that time there was an American engineer named Captain James B. Eads. He, too, like many other great men, had once been a poor boy. When nine years of age he made his first trip in a steamboat on the Ohio River, and studied the engine so carefully that when he got home he made an exact model of it. This greatly amused his schoolmates, as did also a tiny locomotive engine which he had also made himself, and which was driven by a concealed rat.

At thirteen Eads was, taken out of school and he set out with the rest of the family for Wisconsin. But while on the Ohio their boat took fire, and when Eads reached the shore, he found that he had lost everything except the shirt, pantaloons, and cap he wore. Another boat soon picked up the forlorn family and carried them down to St. Louis, where the barefoot boy landed on the very spot on which he was later to build a wonderful bridge. As he had to earn his own living, Eads now found a place as errand boy in a dry-goods store; but, determined to learn, he spent all his evenings studying in the books he borrowed. Seeing how eager he was to learn, a kind old gentleman let him use his library, and there Eads found the first work on engineering which he had ever seen.

After spending five years in the dry-goods business, Eads got work on one of the Mississippi steamboats; and as it plied up and down the stream, he studied the river, and thus laid the corner stone of his fortunes. Before long he found a way to raise the cargoes of sunken ships, and, later, the vessels themselves.

By doing this he saved much property which would otherwise have been lost, and his ingenious contrivances won him fame as well as fortune. In 1861, when the Civil War began, the government gave him an order for some gunboats. He supplied seven within sixty-five days, and had them all ready when they were needed for the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson.

These gunboats also did good service at Vicksburg, and it was partly owing to their help that Grant got control of the Father of Waters. In 1874, after seven years' hard work, Eads completed the huge steel bridge which spans the Mississippi At St. Louis. This is one of the most wonderful bridges in the world, and it was very hard to build. To reach a rock foundation for the piers, Eads had to dig through one hundred and thirty-six feet of mud and sand,—a feat which many engineers said he could not accomplish!

[Illustration] from Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber


The bridge was no sooner done, however, than Eads proposed to open one of the mouths of the Mississippi. During his journeys and studies of rivers in Europe, he had noticed that where a channel is narrow, the force of the current keeps it clear. He therefore laid his plan before Congress, which, after talking the matter over for about a year, gave him permission to try it. Eads spent the next four years in building two long piers, or jetties, from a natural mouth of the stream, far out into the Gulf. These jetties, which are more than two miles long and only four hundred yards apart, keep the waters from spreading as they used to do. The current is therefore much stronger and swifter, and as it sweeps along it carries the mud and sand far out into the Gulf of Mexico, where the water is so deep that they can settle without stopping any ships. Thus the river has deepened its channel through the bar so that the largest ships can always pass. This advantage is so great that it seems very little to have spent more than five million dollars to secure it.

After finishing this great piece of engineering, in 1879, Eads began to think of a ship railway across the narrow part of Mexico, but before he could carry out his plans, he died in 1887. He is known throughout the world for the Mississippi jetties, and every one greatly admires the patience of the man who educated himself while working hard to earn his own living.