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Secrets of a Master Builder

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People & Events: Opening of the St. Louis Bridge

When the Eads Bridge opened on July 4, 1874, it had been publicly tested just two days earlier. Eads had borrowed 14 locomotives from seven railroad companies. Over the course of five hours these engines, which together weighed 550 tons, were repeatedly driven across the bridge. It was a very public spectacle. Thousands of people crowded along the St. Louis levee to watch. Scores more lined the upper roadway of the bridge itself. A nervous engineer reportedly asked whether the bridge would hold -- a reasonable question in an era when railway bridges regularly collapsed under the weight of just one train. Many other doubters had been reassured two weeks earlier by the sight of an elephant lumbering across the wagon deck. It was an unscientific test, but in the 19th century many people believed elephants knew instinctively not to set foot on unsound structures.

Most of the citizens of St. Louis were proud of the bridge, which locals always called the Eads Bridge. It added to the city's prestige and, during the process of construction, it kept the city in the pages of many national papers. The St. Louis Republican was particularly partial to the project. It covered the bridge frequently and favorably during the years it was being built. Eads ensured the good press by paying off the paper's editors with bridge stock.

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