Pachyderm Parade: Carnegie's Elephant on the Bridge of Steel

On June 14th, 1874, Andrew Carnegie, always a showman, decided to pull a stunt that forever went down in history as the day when the elephant became a symbol of the strength and resilience.

The Impossible Bridge

The Eads Bridge, crossing the Mississippi River into St. Louis, was not the first attempt to connect the east and the west, but it was the first successful attempt. During a period of massive expansion, there were casualties as previous attempts at bridges in that spot failed.

Some gaffed at the notion that a bridge of that size could be made of steel, but Carnegie wasn’t phased and proceeded with the project that was among his most famous. It took 7 years for the bridge to be completed and afterwards many said that they would never step foot on the foundation they deemed unstable. Carnegie was never deterred.  

Heavy Footed

He was so sure of his engineering that he decided to risk it all on an elephant's sense of stability. There is a long held belief, true or not, that an elephant will not step on a structure if is is not sure it is stable enough to hold its weight. On that sunny morning, Carnegie's elephant took its first step onto the Eads bridge.

To the shock of onlookers, the bridge collapsed and the elephant plummeted to its death in the roaring waters of the Mississippi below (no not really). Carnegie marched that elephant like a general leading an army into battle, each step casting away the doubts of the strength of steel, turning skepticism into confidence with each thundering step (there ... that is better).

The Eads bridge, named after James Eads the railway man that granted Carnegie the contract to build it, is standing strong today some 150 years later. Anyone that knows this story, surely cannot cross this waterway without thinking about the elephant that did it first.