Gustav Eiffel and his famous Tower

Eiffel Tower
March 1889

On January 28, 1887, French engineer Gustave Eiffel started construction work of his famous eponymous Tower in Paris. Finished 26 months later in March 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, it has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. Until today, the tower is the tallest structure in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world; 7.1 million people ascended it in 2011.

When plans were first unveiled to build the structure for the 1889 World’s Fair, the design was severely criticized by reknown intellectuals and artists. Gustave Eiffel’s monument to mark the centenary of the French Revolution became a rather controversial subject in Parisian society. A group headed by such prominent nineteenth-century writers as Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas, as well as the architect of the old opera, Charles Garnier, lodged a formal complaint against the proposed plan, calling the design a disgraceful skeleton . . . “a gigantic factory chimney whose form will disfigure the architectural harmony of the city.”

However, studies of the project began in 1884 and for the contest more than 100 artists submitted competing plans for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars to serve as the world exposition’s entrance. The commission finally was granted to Eiffel et Compagnie, a consulting and construction firm owned by the acclaimed bridge builder, architect and metals expert Gustave Eiffel. While Eiffel himself often receives full credit for the monument that bears his name, it was one of his employees, a structural engineer named Maurice Koechlin, who came up with and fine-tuned the concept.

When the tower opened to the public in May, 1889, it was an instant success. Eiffel was able to reimburse his creditors within one year, just through the admission ticket receipts from the 1,868,000 visitors. Tickets cost 2 francs for the first level, 3 for the second and 5 for the top, with half-price admission on Sundays. Twenty years later, however, the lease for the land expired, and Eiffel lost control of his tower to the City of Paris. The land was too valuable for such a frivolous structure, according to city council, and plans were made to turn the tower into scrap metal. This also happened to all the other iron buildings built for the exposition. Fortunately for the Eiffel Tower, the First World War came along, and the tower was transformed into a military radio and telegraph centre. In the opening weeks of the First World War, powerful radio transmitters were fitted to the tower in order to jam German communications. This seriously hindered their advance on Paris, and contributed to the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne. Thus, the tower’s lease was renewed for another 70 years, and the tourists continued to flock to the structure.

Actually, the Eiffel Tower remained the highest building on earth until 1930 the Chrysler Building in New York was erected. From the ground to the flagpole its height was 312,27 meters in 1889, whereas it is today, 324 meters high with antennae. The height of the Eiffel Tower varies by 15 cm due to temperature.Different French television companies install their antennae right on top of the tower. The tower is built from puddled iron erected with a crossbar system made of 18.038 pieces and fixed with 2.500.000 rivets. Despite its size, the tower only weighs 7,300 tons. If you ever visit Paris and decide to climb the Eiffel tower by foot, you will have to conquer 1665 steps. Maintenance of the tower includes applying 50 to 60 tonnes of paint every seven years to protect it from rust. Overall, more than 200,000,000 people have already visited the tower since its construction in 1889.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by John Merriman of Yale University. His talk on ‘Paris and the Belle Époque‘ is part of the lecture series ‘France since 1871‘. The Belle Èpoque, which the Eiffel Tower was built in depicted a period of optimism, peace, new technologies and scientific discoveries in France and especially Paris, ending with the beginning of World War I.

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