The Iron Guardian of Parisian Dreams
Constructed by Gustave Eiffel’s company, the Eiffel Tower was initially met with skepticism due to its unprecedented iron design. However, it has since emerged as one of the world’s most iconic structures.
In 1889, Paris was the proud host of the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair). Originating in London in 1851, these fairs display the latest inventions, architectural marvels, and artistic achievements from across the world. Now known as expos, these events rotate every three years among various global locations.
Planning for a monumental tower to serve as the fair’s entrance began in 1884. The event doubled as a celebration of the centenary of the French Revolution, and organizers envisioned the tower as a symbol of French freedom and independence. Out of 107 proposals from an open contest, the design by French bridge engineer Gustave Eiffel prevailed.
Gustave Eiffel in 1888, photographed by Félix Nadar
Most of the alternative designs leaned towards a more classical approach, and the concept of an iron tower in Paris’s heart faced significant opposition. Renowned artists, musicians, writers, and architects even voiced their disdain in “Le Temps,” a popular newspaper, condemning the prospective construction of the “obnoxious, vile, awful tower.”
The foundational concept for the Eiffel Tower came from Eiffel et Compagnie engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier. They suggested a tall structure with four metal frames starting wide at the bottom and coming together at the top, with metal cross-braces joining them at regular spaces. Eiffel, inspired by their idea, collaborated with them and architect Stephen Sauvetre. Together, they refined the concept into a three-tiered wrought iron tower. After three years of planning, they greenlit the design.
First drawing of the Eiffel Tower by Maurice Koechlin, including a size comparison with other landmarks
Construction began in January 1887. Foundations were laid within five months, and the tower’s metal structure was finished in the following twenty-one months. Eiffel’s factory outside Paris meticulously crafted each of the 18,000 iron pieces required, ensuring precision down to a tenth of a millimeter. With 2.5 million rivets joining them, the tower’s assembly demonstrated impeccable accuracy for its times.
A visual timeline of the tower’s construction
By March 31, 1889, the tower was ready. It opened to the public on May 6. However, the initial 30,000 visitors had to conquer 1,710 steps to reach the top, as the elevators began operating later that month.
Interestingly, Gustave Eiffel claimed a platform just beneath the tower’s spire for himself. This intimate apartment, encircled by an open-air balcony, welcomed esteemed visitors like Thomas Edison and even housed a grand piano.
The wax models of Gustave Eiffel (right) with Thomas Edison in his apartment on the third floor of the tower
Reaching almost 1,000 feet (300 meters), the Eiffel Tower held the title of the world’s tallest structure until New York City’s Chrysler Building took the crown in 1930. On a clear day, visitors can gaze 80 kilometers in every direction from its top.
Originally painted dark red, the tower was coated yellow in 1899 and bronze about five decades later. Nowadays, it receives a fresh coat every seven years to ward off rust, a process that consumes 60 tons of paint and spans 18 months.
View of the 1889 World’s Fair
Though slated for demolition after 20 years, the tower’s potential as a radio antenna secured its survival. During World War I, it became pivotal for the French military, aiding communication with troops and naval forces, and intercepting enemy transmissions. To this day, it serves as a relay antenna for radio and TV broadcasts in Paris.
Over the years, the Eiffel Tower has transformed from a symbol of modern innovation to the very essence of Paris and France.
Words of wisdom
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ―George Bernard Shaw
“The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot.” ―Andre Breton
“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.” ―Dalai Lama XIV
“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.” ―Margaret Thatcher