Parsons Paris

The Eiffel Tower Story

MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies student Nicky Kabitsis treats us to a short history of the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower.  We all know the name and the formation of the structure, but many have completely overlooked the history of this worldly known monument. Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) was born in Dijon to a well-off family. By 1854, he had begun building bridges for a railway industry, ultimately opening his own architectural firm years later.

Emile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin conceived of the original idea in 1884 and showed it to their boss, Gustave Eiffel, who declared little interest in it. Nevertheless, he sends Stephen Sauvestre, the premier architect of the firm, to work on it.  Years later, Eiffel has completely changed his idea about the project, and essentially embarks on a publicity campaign for “his” tower after buying the rights. After the reelection of President Grévy, the exposition is given a 43 million franc budget, and an open contest to architects was created. The contest states, each enrolled tower design had to be a 300m tower with a square base, making the Eiffel Tower the only one (out of a total of 107 proposal) that realistically fit the criteria, Eiffel’s.

The official proposal for the tower was accepted in 1886, built between January 28,1887 and May 17, 1889, in time for the Universal Exposition of 1889. 300 workers put together over 12,000 metal girders and 2.5 million rivets. The tower is 324 meters tall today and is so stable that it is capable of withstanding a lateral pressure of 880lbs. It is illuminated by 20,000 light bulbs every night of every hour on the hour, and is repainted every 7 years with over 60 tonnes of paint. There are 669 stairs to the second level, and another 1000 stairs to access the Sommet, which is only possible now through elevators.

There are 72 names engraved on the Eiffel Tower which belong to French scientists, mathematicians, engineers, architects, and other scientific pioneers whose theories made the construction of the Eiffel Tower possible. Yet, the most famous criticism of the names included points to its exclusion of women, and specifically Sophie Germain, a female physicist and mathematician who made important contributions to elasticity theory that was essential to the construction of the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower was hated by so many artists in Paris, that there was a dedicated protest towards the tower, where artists, writers and cultural figures like Charles Garnier, Alexandre Dumas fils, Guy de Maupassant and Sully Prudhomme wrote letters to Eiffel claiming their hatred. Guy de Maupassant hated the tower so much that he ate lunch on it everyday, claiming that it was the only way he could admire Paris without having to see the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Today, the Eiffel Tower continues to make history by adding new attractions for limited amounts of time to its grounds.  For example, just last week, Perrier Water supplied a zip line from the second level all the way across to the end of the Champs de Mars. Competitions have been thrown to see how quickly one can climb the stairs to each level, having the time to beat as 3 minutes and 12 seconds.

While originally looked at as a “giant pylon” in the middle of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is now one of the most known monuments in not only Europe, but the entire world.

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