Designing and Building the Eiffel Tower
Paris hosted an Exposition Universelle (World Fair) in 1889 to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution. Over 100 artists sent in competing plans for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars, in central Paris, and mark the exposition’s entrance. The commission was awarded to Eiffel et Compagnie, a construction and consulting firm owned by famous metals expert, bridge builder and architect Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Although Eiffel himself frequently receives full credit for the monument, it was actually one of his employees – Maurice Koechlin, a structural engineer – who devised the fine-tuned concept. Many years later, the two of them collaborated on the armature of the Statue of Liberty.
Reportedly, Eiffel rejected Koechlin’s first plan for the tower, demanding that he add more ornate flourishes. The final decision required over 18,000 pieces of puddle iron, a kind of wrought iron used in construction, and 2.5 million rivets. Hundreds of workers assembled the framework of the iconic tower for two years, which stood almost 1,000 feet high at its inauguration in March 1889 and was the tallest structure in the world – a title it held until New York City’s Chrysler building was completed in 1930. (However, in 1957 an antenna was added that made the structure 65 feet taller, resulting in it being taller than the Chrysler Building but not the Empire State Building, which had overshadowed its neighbour in 1931.) Originally, only the second-floor platform of the Eiffel Tower was open to the public; later, however, all three levels, two of which currently have restaurants, would be accessible by one of eight elevators or by stairs.
Many Parisians, however, considered it an eyesore or feared it was not structurally sound.
A Permanent Feature of the Paris skyline
Initially intended as a temporary exhibit, the Eiffel Tower was nearly torn down and scrapped by 1909. City officials chose to save it after seeing its value as a radiotelegraph station. During World War One, many years later, the Eiffel Tower intercepted radio communications of the enemy, was used to dispatch emergency troop reinforcements and relayed zeppelin alerts. During World War II, it escaped destruction a second time: Hitler originally ordered the demolition of the Eiffel Tower, but the command was never followed through. French resistance fighters cut the elevator cables of the Eiffel Tower during Germany’s occupation of France so that the Nazis were forced to climb the stairs.
The Eiffel Tower, now one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, had a major facelift in 1986 and is repainted every seven years. It attracts more visitors than any other paid monument on the planet.