John K Brown Spanning the Gilded Age

Saturday, June 01 from 4:00pm to 5:00pm

Join us for a book talk with John K. Brown, who will speak about his new book, Spanning the Gilded Age.

Join us for a book talk with John K. Brown, who will speak about his new book, Spanning the Gilded Age: James Eads and the Great Steel Bridge. This in-person event will be free and open to the public. We recommend arriving early for the best seating.

About the Book: The fascinating history of the St. Louis Bridge, the first steel structure in the world.

In Spanning the Gilded Age, John K. Brown tells the daring, improbable story of the construction of the St. Louis Bridge, known popularly as the Eads Bridge. Completed in 1874, it was the first structure of any kind—anywhere in the world—built of steel. This history details the origins, design, construction, and enduring impact of a unique feat of engineering, and it illustrates how Americans built their urban infrastructure during the nineteenth century.

With three graceful arches spanning the Mississippi River, the Eads Bridge’s twin decks carried a broad boulevard above a dual-track railroad. To place its stone piers on bedrock, engineer James Eads pioneered daring innovations that allowed excavators to work one hundred feet beneath the river. With construction scarcely begun, Eads circulated a prospectus—offering a 500 percent return on investment—that attracted wealthy investors, including J. Pierpont Morgan in New York and his father, Junius, in London. This record-breaking design, which employed a novel method to lay its foundations and an untried metal for its arches, was projected by a steamboat man who had never before designed a bridge.

By detailing influential figures such as James Eads, the Morgans, Andrew Carnegie, and Jay Gould, Spanning the Gilded Age offers new perspectives on an era that saw profound changes in business, engineering, governance, and society. Beyond the bridge itself, Brown explores a broader story: how America became urban, industrial, and interconnected. This triumph of engineering reflects the Gilded Age’s grand ambitions, and the bridge remains a vital transportation artery today.

About the Author: A Charlottesville resident since 1985, John K. Brown earned a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia in 1992. For twenty-five years, he taught history, ethics, writing, and public speaking to undergraduates in UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. His students called him “Doc Brown,” a nickname derived from the character in Back to the Future. Research specialties in American industrial, business, and technological history led him to the Eads Bridge. He lives in Charlottesville, happily married to the dynamic Wendy Brown. They have two adult children.

Spanning the Gilded Age will be released on May 21. To order the book, please see below for the New Dominion Bookshop book order form or call the shop at 434-295-2552.

"Skullduggery, robber baron intrigue, and engineering genius on the shores of the Mississippi River after the Civil War: John Brown tells the gripping, many-sided genesis story of Eads’s graceful, steel-arched bridge at St. Louis, set in an era when steel was still an experimental material and no one knew quite what to do with it."

—Robert Kanigel

New Dominion Bookshop Book Order Form

Shop local and support your community bookstore! Order books from New Dominion Bookshop by filling out the contact form below. Please make sure that you list the book title(s) that you would like to order. We will give you a call when your order is ready. If you are placing a pre-order for a book that has not yet been released, your book will be ready on or soon after the book’s release date. There is no need to pre-pay. We will collect your payment when you pick up your order or when your order is shipped. If you would like your book(s) to be signed and/or inscribed, please include that information in the “Message for Our Booksellers” field.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.