Union supporter James Eads, a gunboat builder, made his fortune as a young man by salvaging sunken riverboats along the Mississippi River. Eads, a self-educated engineer,
devised his own diving bell from a 40-gallon whiskey keg, helping him
reclaim cargo. By the time he was 40 years old, he had become a
wealthy, prominent St. Louisan.
after war broke out, Eads expressed his concern about the Union's need
for a strong navy presence on the Mississippi River to his friend, Attorney General Edward Bates. Bates, a fellow St. Louisan, knew of Ead's river expertise and supported his building a fleet. He also helped Eads get an audience with Lincoln.