21019 The Eiffel Tower

Facts

  • Location: Paris, France
  • Architect: Entrepreneur: Gustave Eiffel; Engineers: Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier; Architect: Stephen Sauvestre
  • Cost: 7,799,401 French gold francs
  • Materials: Wrought iron with stonework pedestals
  • Height: Initial height: 312 meters/1,024 feet. Current height (including antennaes): 324 meters/1,063 feet
  • Weight: 7300 metric tons/8047 tons
  • Year: 1887-1889

History

In 1889 Paris hosted a World’s Fair to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution. Three years before, an official competition had been launched to find a suitable centerpiece for the exhibition. Gustave Eiffel’s plan for a 985-foot (300-meter) tall iron tower was selected from among the 107 different projects submitted.

Two chief engineers from Eiffel’s company, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, had already been working on an idea for an iron tower since 1884. Their design was based on a large pylon with four columns of latticework girders, separated at the base and coming together at the top. The four columns would be joined together by metal girders at regular intervals. 

In order to make the proposed project more acceptable to public opinion, Nouguier and Koechlin turned to the head of the company’s architectural department, Stephen Sauvestre, and asked him to work on the tower’s overall appearance. Sauvestre proposed stonework pedestals to dress the legs, and added decorative arches to link the columns at the first level. He also suggested a bulb-shaped design for the top and various other ornamental decorations, but these were rejected to create the simplified appearance we recognize today.

While Gustave Eiffel believed the structure would symbolize “not only the art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living,” the proposed tower soon attracted criticism. Many of the country’s leading art figures campaigned against it, calling the structure both “useless and monstrous,” and a “hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”

Many of the protesters, however, changed their minds once the tower was built, and today it is widely considered to be a striking piece of structural art.

When the main work was completed in March 1889, Eiffel led a group of government officials, accompanied by representatives of the press, to the top of the tallest structure in the world. Since the elevators were not yet in operation, the ascent was made by foot, and took over an hour. Here Eiffel unfurled a large Tricolore to the accompaniment of a 25-gun salute.

Architect

Born on December 15, 1832, in Dijon, Gustave Eiffel was an exceptionally gifted engineer and builder. He graduated from the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1855, the same year that Paris hosted the first World’s Fair. He spent several years in southwestern France, where he supervised work on the great railway bridge in Bordeaux. In 1864, he set up in his own right as a “constructor,” specializing in metal structural work. Eiffel would go on to build hundreds of different types of metal structures all around the world. Bridges, particularly railway bridges, were his favorite field of work, but he also won renown for his metal structural work and industrial installations. His career was marked by a large number of fine structures and buildings, two of the most outstanding being the twin edifices of the Porto viaduct and the Garabit viaduct in the Cantal region of France.

Equally outstanding are the other structures where the pure inventiveness of Eiffel’s company was allowed free rein, such as the “portable” bridges sold around the world as “kits,” and the ingenious structure of the Statue of Liberty in New York. His entrepreneurial career culminated in 1889 with the completion of the Eiffel Tower. Two years earlier, in 1887, Eiffel had agreed to build the locks of the Panama Canal. It was an immense undertaking, but the project was badly managed and went on to become one of the biggest financial scandals of the century.

After clearing his name, Eiffel retired to devote the final thirty years of his life to scientific research. He died on December 27, 1923, at the age of 91.

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