A short history of the Eiffel Tower...





Do you think people have always accepted the presence of the Eiffel Tower in Paris? You are wrong! As said in Wikipedia, its design was widely criticised by some of France's leading artists and intellectuals. Some were pro Eiffel Tower, some were against, and there was a real battle, through articles and pamphlets, between them.

There was supposed to be a new monument in the "Champ de Mars" anyway, as originally a competition was organised to build something for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. What you may also not know (yet) is that originally, the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be demolished after the exhibition! And did you know that Gustave Eiffel who build the monument, was already famous at the time? He was the designer and builder of the inside metal skeleton of the Statue of Liberty, offered by France to the United States in 1886! However, Eiffel did not design the Eiffel Tower himself, as we will see later on...


Paris, 1880. A competition is organised for the building of three new monuments. They will all be inaugurated at the beginning of the Universal exhibition of 1889. Gustave Eiffel asks two of his engineers, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, to design the project: an iron tower, the highest tower ever built, that will be able to resist the strongest winds. The monument, meant to celebrate, with the Exhibition, the centennial of the French revolution, was going to be revolutionary itself!

So why was the tower named after Gustave Eiffel, if he didn't even design it himself? Because after the tower was finally designed, after many different drawings, Eiffel bought all the rights from Koechlin and Nouguier, and thus became the only owner of the masterpiece. A bit naughty, isn't it? Well, he was not only an engineer himself, he was also a very intelligent (and rich) businessman.

Eiffel's competitors were tough. Some people already prefered to support them instead of him. They did not believe in his project, but Eiffel managed to convince some influential supporters in the Governement, and finally the project won the competition.

Stage number two: it was now time to build the tower. And this is where the real problems began...

First it was discovered that the land where the tower was going to be built, which was next to the river Seine, was impregnated with water! The construction process stopped. Eiffel had to find a solution, otherwise the building of the tower was going to be abandoned! Please read Wikipedia (chapter “Construction”) for technical details of the solution, which consisted in using compressed-air caissons.

The second problem came when the financiers (I do not know who they were, the French State maybe) refused to increase the budget, which was already huge, to allow the building of these very expensive caissons. Without money, nothing could be done. As nobody wanted to finance the extension of the budget, Eiffel then announced that he would finance the caissons himself!

The third problem was the one mentioned above: a group of artists and intellectuals united in 1887 to fight the project. I do not think this could have stopped the construction itself, although the public could be influenced or even convinced by the campaign that they launched, but one thing for sure is that it touched Eiffel very deeply and, once again, he had to re-explain and justify his project.

The fourth problem was the working conditions during the construction, which would be considered horrific nowadays. Actually, they were already considered horrific in those days because the workers went on strike twice. They were working between 9 and 12 hours a day in all weathers, cold or hot, in the extreme sun of the summer, the rain or the snow of the winter, and as the tower was growing, in increasingly hard conditions of temperature (minus 30°C, which is minus 22°F, during winter 1888!) and wind. They couldn't wear any gloves because they had to manipulate small pieces of metal, like some screws for example, and they also had to transport very heavy loads. Eiffel, who had compared his future tower to the Egyptian pyramids when he was fighting to win the competition, also imposed pharaonic working conditions to his workers. There was probably no other way to do it in those days, but it was even more difficult for the workers to accept those conditions as they knew they were risking their lives for what was going to be a temporary tower! Above all, they had to respect a very strict agenda, which was part of the rules of the competition. The tower needed to be built quickly, and be ready for the 31st March 1889.


Luckily no one died or was wounded during the construction, and on the 31st March 1889, not even a day later, the tower was inaugurated by Gustave Eiffel, who proudly and triumphantly planted the French flag at the top of it.


To know more about the Eiffel Tower, here are some very interesting links about the history of the Eiffel Tower, and two very good YouTube videos about this great monument.


Wikipedia