Paris History – The Eiffel Tower
It would not be a mistake to say that the Eiffel Tower is Paris’s most famous monument. It is intriguing to see that this tower, a big brown metallic tower built in the late 19th century is the most iconic building of Paris, a city rich of centuries of history, medieval churches, Gothic cathedrals and Haussmannian architecture. The answer to this mystery can be found in this monument’s history.
Origins of the Project and Design
The Eiffel Tower finds its origin in man’s desire to climb higher and higher. Every civilization has tried to build at least one very high monument. This race to the top, in pre-industrial times was severely limited by construction materials. The emergence of metal as a construction material opened new architectural possibilities.
In this era, an engineer, Gustave Eiffel founded his company in 1884, specializing in metal bridges construction (Note: he also realized the interior structure of the Statue of Liberty). Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, two top employees of Eiffel’s company, designed a plan of a 300 meters high tower, answering an implicit technical challenge addressed by the French architectural community in Le Monde, one of the main national newspapers.
Eiffel refused the project at first; thinking of all of the constraints (material, financial, political…) such a project would face but encouraged them to continue their studies on the matter. The Universal Exhibition was to take place in Paris in 1889, and Eiffel wanted to build this tower as the portal of the exhibition.
Shortly, after the proposal of the original plan, Stephen Sauvestre, an architect and not an engineer, joined the team. He redrew the plans and among other things, curved the 4 main pillars, changed the disposition of the two platforms, added a third one, and slightly modified the aesthetic aspect of the tower by adding a steeple on top. In other words, he drafted the plans of the Eiffel tower we know today.
The calculations were fairly straightforward as the team of engineers only took to forces into account, the weight of the tower itself and the wind.
The patent of the tower and its architectural method was filed the 18th of September 1884 with the names of Gustave Eiffel, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier. As Eiffel quickly realized the potential of this project, he bought Koechlin and Nouguier’s share of the patent; this is why the names of those who drew the plans were forgotten (Nouguier, Koechlin and Sauvestre).
The project was chosen by the Universal Exhibition committee and the 4 men started to work. The extensive plans of the tower were designed by 50 engineers and designers that completed no less than 5300 drawings describing the monument as precisely as possible.
After the project had been approved, one last question remained, where should it be built? For Eiffel, the answer goes without saying; it should be in the Champ de Mars, serving as the entry to the Universal Exhibition of 1889. This was easier said than done… He had to convince the French industry and trade Minister. To do so, he proposed to initiate a contest to “build a 300 meters high iron tower on the Champ de Mars, with a square base of 125 meters per side”. Knowing that this was a technical prowess and already having the plans in his possession, he was nearly sure to win this contest. But the minister, Edouard Lockroy, was not easily convinced. And there was a lot of competition; the minister received no less than 107 propositions.
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The argument that won the contest and the minister’s approval was that the “Eiffel” tower, with its three platforms, could serve as a base for scientific experiments. And these were not empty words; the tower has truly supported numerous experiments in the field of radiobroadcasting, meteorology and aeronautics. It is its importance in radiobroadcasting that will save the tower from destruction 20 years later.
Construction of Eiffel Tower
The construction of the tower lasted 26 months and three days. The official start of the construction took place on the 28th of January 1887. The first works focused on the foundations of the 4 pillars. It is important to keep in mind that at that time, all works were done by man power. There was no problem to build pillars 2 and 3, as these were on the Champ de Mars side. However, building pillars 1 and 4, on the Seine side, was a real nightmare due to water proximity.
The construction of the metallic structure began the 1st of July 1887. In the beginning, the assembling was fairly simple as workers simply took the pieces fabricated in factories, assembled them on the ground and lifted them to the tower. But, as soon as the tower reached 30 meters, Eiffel had to find another way. And, through a clever mix of scaffolds and cranes, the workers managed to build the tower up the 2nd platform, from where they were able to work to build the tower up to the top.
There were no important problems during the construction, that was finished late, but still before the deadline. It is still important to mention, a worker strike in the winter of 1888. They asked for better work schedules and a higher risk premium due to the impressive height of the tower. Eiffel accepted to grant this premium increase but refused to index it on the tower’s height, as according to him, the risk was the same; regardless of the building’s height (it is true that any fall would have proven fatal).
A maximum of 250 individuals were employed throughout the project and despite the risks, no death was reported. At the end of the construction, in March 1889, the tower was 300 meters high for a weight of 10 100 tons, but its height increased to 324 meters after the installation of radio antennas. It held the record of the highest man-built structure before being beaten by the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930.
Even though today, with the progress of architecture, the Eiffel Tower is certainly not the highest man-built structure, it remains an architectural prowess and one of the most famous monument of Paris and the world.