The Origin and History of the Eiffel Tower

When thinking of France, many different images come to mind. Common images include berets, the Louvre, and(of course) the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower, or La Tour Eiffel in French, is probably the strongest image of France in the minds of Americans. But why is a large metal structure such a prominent symbol of French cultures to foreigners and why is it such a major engineering feat? The following will explore how the Eiffel Tower came to be and the difficulties it has faced throughout the years. The year is 1886. In 1889, a mere three years away, Paris will host the World’s Fair. To impress the rest of the world, they must showcase something incredible, something that the world has never before seen or thought of. France has announced a contest to create the centerpiece for the World’s Fair. Enter Alexandre Gustave Eiffel(commonly known as Gustave Eiffel), a 54 year old engineering genius, and Morris Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, employees of Eiffel. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel is the man most associated with the tower. Eiffel was born in Dijon, France in 1832. While he is best known for his work on the Eiffel Tower, most people don’t know his other works. One of these include America’s very own Statue of Liberty. While he did not design the statue, he is responsible for creating the metal interior structure. He also constructed such structures as the Maria Pia bridge in Oporto, Portugal and the Bon Marché Department Store in Paris.

Eiffel decided to enter the competition with Koechlin and Nouguier designing the tower. Koechlin and Nouguier worked with French architect Stephen Sauvestre to create a blueprint for Eiffel’s tower. The tower’s first design was rejected by Eiffel, but after a second try, the final design of the tower now known worldwide was submitted to the contest. One ornate feature that was added to the final design of the tower was names of 72 scientists. Eiffel decided to pay homage to 72 great men of science by carving 18 names into each side of the tour. These men encompassed every field of science, from mechanics and physicists to chemists and naturalists. A few of these men included Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, a French chemist who came up with two laws concerning properties of gasses, and Henri Giffard, a French engineer who invented the steam injector. The effect wind would have on the tower was a large concern of Eiffel’s, especially since a structure this large had never attempted to be constructed before. The architect’s were forced to rely on past experience instead of mathematical calculations to determine the wind’s effect of the tower. For this reason, the tower had to be designed section by section as opposed to using an overall equation. Eiffel was still unsure of the tower’s wind resistance so he “overdesigned’ the bottom section, for safety reasons.” The tower does sway slightly when windy, but is more affected by sunlight. As the sun hits the tower, the side facing the sun can move away from the sun as much as seven inches and the entire tower can grow as much as six inches. The architects’ final design was for a 984 foot tower called Tour en Fer de Trois Cent Mètres, which roughly translates to Iron Tower Three Hundred Meters. The tower was to be constructed from 18,000 pieces of wrought iron and two and a half million rivets to create the lattice framework. Eiffel decided to construct his tower from wrought iron to prove that the tower could be as strong as stone while also being lighter.

Construction began in July 1887 and Eiffel’s iconic tower was opened to the public in 1889. It costed 7,799,401.31 in French gold francs to create the tower in 1889. This converts to roughly € 1,189,011.06 or $1,611,466.69 today. But Eiffel’s tower was not constructed without it’s fair share of difficulties. One of the greatest challenges that construction of the Eiffel Tower faced was that Parisians simply did not want it in their city. Many important citizens, including writer Guy de Maupassant, composer Charles Gounod, and architect Charles Garnier, objected to the tower. They created a petition stating that, “the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonor of Paris(Thomas, Vivian.).” Close to 300 artists, sculptors, writers, and architects signed the petition and sent it to commissioner of the Paris World’s Fair. They begged that construction of the tower be discontinued because the tower was “ridiculous” and “would dominate Paris like a gigantic black smokestack.

The managers of the project decided to continue with their original plan, despite the amount of protesting from around the city. Construction continued, along with more difficulties. After Eiffel won the design contest, there was much procrastination in creating a contract on the commissioners part. In fact, the contract was put off for so long that Eiffel was afraid he would not be able to finish in time for the World’s Fair. The 200 plus workers involved with construction faced a punishing work schedule and legitimate safety concerns. Construction workers labored for hours on end, often in freezing weather on small platforms incredibly high off the ground. Fortunately, but unfortunately for him, only one man was killed during construction of the tower. Eiffel’s Tower was finally opened to the public on March 31, 1889, two years after construction began, just in time for the World’s Fair. The citizens of Paris put up with what they believed would only be a temporary eyesore, as “Eiffel only had permit to keep the tower for 20 years” I believe this is what makes the Eiffel Tower such an incredible engineering feat. The tower was built to be temporary, lasting only 20 years if even that, but has now remained standing for 124 years with few complications. Eiffel’s Tower was allowed to remain because “proved valuable for telecommunication purposes.” Eiffel hated to see his hard work go to waste after just 20 years, so he decided to make the tower an essential part of Paris. After the completion of the tower, Eiffel created a meteorology laboratory on the third floor, about 900 feet in the air. When the laboratory was completed, Eiffel invited scientists from all around to visit the tower to complete research. The lab was used to study anything and everything, ranging anywhere from gravity to electricity. Aside from Eiffel, many other scientists studied in the tower’s laboratory. Some of these scientists include Jean Bernard Léon Foucault and Eugène Ducretet, who both made important discoveries with the help of the tower. Foucault is, of course, known for the invention of the pendulum. The invention of the pendulum was important because it proved the theory that the Earth is moving at incredibly high speeds.

History has not been as kind to Eugène Ducretet as it has been to Foucault, although Ducretet’s discovery was equally as important. On November 5th, 1898, Ducrete successfully performed the first wireless telegraphy trial. The trial was completed between the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon, which were four kilometers apart. Only one year later, in 1899, Ducrete successfully sent the first telegraphy waves across the English Channel. Eiffel’s tower is one of the world’s most incredible engineering feats. It was not planned over a long period of time, but rather designed fairly quickly so as to have a shot for everyone to marvel over it at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Even though the design won the contest, that was not the end of the struggles. The fact that the tower was completed in time for the World’s Fair is astonishing, and the fact that it still stands today is even more so. Structures that are meant to stand only 20 years rarely, if ever, end up standing 124 years almost completely unharmed. If this does not qualify Eiffel’s tower as an incredible feat of engineering, I don’t know what does. The Eiffel Tower is an incredible feat, it was an engineering risk to carry out the construction of it, especially with most of Paris objecting the creation of the tower. Gustave Eiffel and his team of engineers took a leap of faith to do something that had never been done before and there leap has now become one of the most, if not the most iconic images of France. The incredible thought that went into every little detail of the tower makes the entire project incredibly beautiful and unique. Finally, here are Gustave Eiffel’s thoughts on his tower: “Can one think that because we are engineers, beauty does not preoccupy us or that we do not try to build beautiful, as well as solid and long lasting structures? Aren’t the genuine functions of strength always in keeping with unwritten conditions of harmony? Besides, there is an attraction, a special charm in the colossal to which ordinary theories of art do not apply.

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