The Eiffel Tower, perhaps one of the most recognizable structures in the world opened on today’s date, March 31 in 1889. The iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, was built as an entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair which was held to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. Named for its designer, Gustave Eiffel, the tower assumed the title of the tallest man-made structure in the world, at 1,063 feet until the Chrysler Building in New York City took that title in 1930. In a ceremony presided over by Eiffel, and attended by French Prime Mister Pierre Tirard, other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers, an ascent was made to the top of the Tower. But since the elevators were not yet in service, this had to be done via the staircase. Even with Monsieur Eiffel stopping at various points to explain various features of the structure, most of the company petered out at the lower levels. But but a few, including several dignitaries, as well as reporters from the Paris newpapers Le Figaro and Le Monde Illustré managed to finish the epic trek. At 2:35 Eiffel hoisted a large French flag, accompanied a 25-gun salute fired from the lower level.
“Useless and Monstrous!!”
When the structure was proposed, there were of course, those who objected to the idea of this huge, iron gargoyle sitting atop their beloved Paris. In fact, a group calling itself “The Committee of Three Hundred” – one for each meter of the Tower’s proposed height and which included some of France’s most important artistic names, such as Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet published a particularly angry screed in the Paris newspaper Le Temps on February 14, 1887:
“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream.… we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”
But Monsieur Eiffel shot back with some verbiage of his own, upping the rhetoric by comparing his tower to the Pyramids of ancient Egypt: “My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?” This brought about some of the caricature of Eiffel such as can be seen in the cartoon in the paper Le Central (above).
The Eiffel Tower is Finished On Time and On Budget
In spite of all of the criticism, Gustave Eiffel (below) kept his eyes on the prize and managed to bring his “Monstrous” project in ahead of
time at two years and under budget, at 8 million francs or $1.5m (around $36m in today’s money). And thanks to the extensive safety precautions, such as the use of screens, guard rails, and movable stagings, the construction was finished with only one fatality. And in the end, no less an authority than Thomas Edison would write in the visitors book: “engineer, the brave builder of so gigantic and original specimen of modern engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all engineers.” This tower was almost torn down after the World Exposition’s lease on the land atop which it stood expired after 20 years in 1909. But happily the value of the structure as a radio antenna saved it from demolition. The Eiffel tower has since become an iconic landmark, in many ways the very symbol of the city of Paris, indeed of France herself, and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world.
Photo at the top:
“Tour Eiffel Wikimedia Commons” by Benh LIEU SONG – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –