A short story of the Iron Lady.


The "Iron Lady"... This is is how French people, especially Parisians, call the Eiffel Tower. This incredible tower has been built in 1889 for the World Fair that was going to take place in Paris to celebrate the centennial of the French revolution.

(These postards have been scanned for this article and the scale is not respected. Real dimensions of each postcard just under its picture)



Paris 5

Dimensions : 10 cm  x  15 cm  = 3.9370 in  x  5.9055 in
Gustave Eiffel, a 50 year old engineer already famous for his iron realisations (some bridges, or the inside skeleton of the Statue of Liberty, offered by France to the USA in 1886, for example) decided to participate in the competition that was organised to build a tower for the World Fair. He immediately saw in this competition an opportunity to realise his dream of a tall tower in Paris. 

The idea of the shape of the tower came in fact from two engineers working for Gustave Eiffel.

Paris 6

Dimensions : 10.5 cm  x  14 cm  =  4.1339 in  x  5.5118 in
The race against the clock was launched in 1884. Of course, Eiffel was not the only one to participate in the competition. Seven hundred competitors registered to propose a project ! The tower had to be built on the Champ de Mars, it also had to respect certain dimensions. Among the other ideas, there was a huge granite lighthouse that was supposed to bring more light to the capital. Eiffel's project was supported by some influential people, but everybody had a doubt concerning the possibility to add elevators, because of the shape of the tower. Some other people were against this tower because they thought it was ugly. Among them, some very famous French writers and artists.

Paris 7

Dimensions : 10.4 cm  x  14.2 cm  = 4.0945 in  x  5.5906 in

On May, 26th 1886, the results of the competition were published. You think Eiffel placed first ? He came only third, but he still had the right to build his tower. I do not know who came first and second, and maybe these two buildings have been demolished since, as the Eiffel Tower itself was supposed to be demolished after twenty years !

Paris 3

Dimensions : 10.4 cm  x  14.2 cm  = 4.0945 in  x  5.5906 in

Back of this postcard :

Paris 3 verso

The work could start now. They started digging in the Champ de Mars and had a very bad surprise : the river Seine being very near the Champ de Mars, the ground was like a sponge soaked in water ! It was impossible to build a tower in those marshes ! At that point, the project was almost abandoned, but Eiffel had a genious... but very expensive idea to solve the problem. Nobody wanted to finance it, so Eiffel decided to risk his own fortune and pay for the extra bill. Now the work could really start.

Paris 10

Dimensions : 10.3 cm  x  14.8 cm  =  4.0551 in  x  5.8268 in

The tower was built at an incredible speed. The 250 workers worked between nine and twelve hours a day, under the rain, under the snow, in the heat and in the cold. The tower was built as a huge Meccano set. The second floor was inaugurated only three months after the first floor.


Take a look at this video made with old pictures of the building of the Eiffel Tower.


Paris 8

Dimensions : 10.3 cm  x  14.8 cm  =  4.0551 in  x  5.8268 in

As the tower was getting higher and higher, the workers were suffering more and more from the heat and the cold. The winter in 1888 was particularly cold as the temperatures dropped to minus 30°C ! The workers' fingers were completely frozen, and sometimes work had to be stopped for a while, in spite of the delays that needed to be respected. This was particularly difficult to accept by the workers as they knew the tower would be demolished twenty years later.

Paris 9

Dimensions : 10.4 cm  x  15 cm  =  4.0945 in  x  5.9055 in

At last, the tower itself was finished ! Now it was time to build the elevators. Eiffel decided to use two companies : the American "Otis" for the northern and southern feet of the tower, and the French "Roux et Combalusier" for the western and eastern feet.

Otis had the reputation to build fast but insecure elevators, and the French company was said to build slow but secure elevators. The two companies felt they were in competition and spied each other, during the first years the tower was opened, to see what improvements the competitor was making to its elevators.

A sort of "wars of elevators" took place. For example, when the French changed their elevators in 1897, the Americans immediately replied by changing theirs. Unfortunately, these new American elevators were not reliable, and had to be demolished. The northern and southern feet remained without any elevator until 1965 !

Paris 2

Dimensions : 10.5 cm  x  14.9 cm  =  4.1339 in  x  5.8661 in

When the tower was inaugurated in 1889, it was the highest building in the world. It remained the highest until the inauguration of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930.

Such a high building is obviously sensitive to the climate. On August 9th 1889, during the world fair, the top of the tower was struck by lightning. Fortunately, there was already a lightening rod, and the tower was protected. A second lightning struck the tower in 1902.

Paris 4

Dimensions : 10.5 cm  x  14.9 cm  =  4.1339 in  x  5.8661 in

Gustave Eiffel had his own office at the top of his tower. There he often received his friends and famous people like Thomas Edison, who signed the guestbook on 10th September 1889. Eiffel decided that the tower would be used for scientific experiments, especially about weather, astronomy, radio... He had even understood that it could be used for communication during a war. This is how he managed to save the Eiffel Tower from demolition. Later on, the tower was also used for television.

Paris 1

Dimensions : 10.3 cm  x  14.2 cm  =  4.0551 in  x  5.5906 in

The Eiffel Tower was closed to the public during WW1 and WW2. The French resistance sabotaged the elevators during WW2 to stop hitler from placing the nazi flag on the top of the tower. A team of soldiers volunteered to use the staircase, but the wind blew away the flag after a few hours only.

Gustave Eiffel died in 1923 after having given to the world one of the most amazing, and beautiful monuments.