[Eiffel Tower]

"Writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the heretofore intact beauty of Paris, we come to protest with all our strength, with all our indignation, in the name of betrayed French taste, in the name of threatened French art and history, against the erection in the heart of our capital of the useless, and monstrous Eiffel Tower, which the public has scornfully and rightly dubbed the Tower of Babel."

La Protestation des Artistes, including Charles Gounod, Guy de Maupassant, and Alexandre Dumas fils [Quoted in Harriss, p. 20]

After the resounding success of the Crystal Palace, the focus shifted to France as Paris was the home of a series of great exhibitions. In 1855, the Palais d'Industrie was built and the exhibition brought in 5.1 million visitors from all over the continent. In 1867, 15 million people came. By 1889, the Centennial Exposition with it's Eiffel Tower was a blockbuster event with 32 million attendees. [Harris, p. 7-11]

When it came time for the 1889 Exposition, they wanted to have something for people to remember. The idea of a 1,000 foot tower was something that had been bandied about for years by architects. At the time, the Washington Monument was the largest tower in the world at 555 feet. Edouard Lockroy was the Minister of Commerce and Industry who drew the intial plans for the Centennial Exposition in Paris.

Lockroy published a note in the Journal Officiel and announced that bidding was open for a thousand foot tower. The responses were fairly diverse. One proposal was in the form of a giant guillotine, another was a giant garden sprinkler that could water the city in case of drought.

Eiffel won the competition and was awarded a subsidy of $300,000, putting $1.3 million of his own money on the line. Eiffel got to operate the tower (as well as the restaurants, cafés, and other ways of separating people from their money once they got on the tower) for twenty years, after which ownership reverted to the City of Paris.

By the time all the competing and awarding was done, however, there was just about two years to actually build the tower. The Washington Monument, next highest tower in the world, had taken 36 years. This was an era of great change, and one with no parallels in history. It was the engineers, not the generals or politicians, who were leading this revolution, and Eiffel had been at the forefront, helping to build bridges, railways, and the Statue of Liberty. [Harris, p. 37]

Eiffel got the job done, with the loss of only one life. By early 1889, visitors were climbing hundreds of steps to get on the first and second platforms of the towers. The elevators almost didn't make it because French procurement regulations required that the bid by the Otis Elevator Company be rejected the first time. When no French company would bid on the crucial elevator from the first to the second platform. Otis was allowed to rebid and completed the job by mid-June, not long after the opening of the Exposition. [Harris, p. 95]

The Tower Opens


Roland Barthes, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies Noonday Press (New York: 1979). A noted social critic, Barthes writes a series of essays in this collection of his writings.

Joseph Harriss, The Tallest Tower: Eiffel & The Belle Epoque Regnery Gateway (Washington, 1975). Fascinating biography of Eiffel with particular focus on the tower and the Exposition.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, University of California Press (Berkeley, 1988). Highly recommended history of lighting. Also recommended is The Railway Journey, the first volume in Schivelbush's trilogy on the dawn of modern life.

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