On this date in 1889 the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel), an iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, was officially opened to a small group of guests. It was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest structure in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.98 million people ascended it in 2011. The tower received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010.
The tower is 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building. Its base is square, 125 meters (410 ft) on a side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to gain the title of the tallest human-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years, until the Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930. Because of the addition of the radio aerial on top of the Eiffel Tower in 1957, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 5.2 meters (17 ft). Not including broadcast aerials, it is the second-tallest structure in France, after the Millau Viaduct.
The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second. The third level observatory’s upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground, the highest accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or elevator to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the walk from the first to the second level. Although there are stairs to the third and highest level, these are usually closed to the public and it is generally only accessible by elevator.
The Eiffel Tower was designed by Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two senior engineers who worked for the Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel, after discussion about a suitable centerpiece for the proposed 1889 Exposition Universelle, a World’s Fair which would celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. In May 1884 Koechlin, working at home, made an outline drawing of their scheme, described by him as “a great pylon, consisting of four lattice girders standing apart at the base and coming together at the top, joined together by metal trusses at regular intervals.” Initially Eiffel himself showed little enthusiasm, but he did sanction further study of the project, and the two engineers then asked Stephen Sauvestre, the head of company’s architectural department, to contribute to the design. Sauvestre added decorative arches to the base, a glass pavilion to the first level, and other embellishments. This enhanced version gained Eiffel’s support: he bought the rights to the patent on the design which Koechlin, Nougier, and Sauvestre had taken out, and the design was exhibited at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in the autumn of 1884 under the company name. On 30 March 1885 Eiffel presented a paper on the project to the Société des Ingénieurs Civils; after discussing the technical problems and emphasizing the practical uses of the tower, he finished his talk by saying that the tower would symbolize “not only the art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement of the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France’s gratitude.”
Little happened until the beginning of 1886, when Jules Grévy was re-elected as President and Édouard Lockroy was appointed as Minister for Trade. A budget for the Exposition was passed and on 1 May Lockroy announced an alteration to the terms of the open competition which was being held for a centerpiece for the exposition, which effectively made the choice of Eiffel’s design a foregone conclusion: all entries had to include a study for a 300 m (980 ft) four-sided metal tower on the Champ de Mars. On 12 May a commission was set up to examine Eiffel’s scheme and its rivals and on 12 June it presented its decision, which was that all the proposals except Eiffel’s were either impractical or insufficiently worked out. After some debate about the exact site for the tower, a contract was finally signed on 8 January 1887. This was signed by Eiffel acting in his own capacity rather than as the representative of his company, and granted him 1.5 million francs toward the construction costs: less than a quarter of the estimated 6.5 million francs. Eiffel was to receive all income from the commercial exploitation of the tower during the exhibition and for the following twenty years. Eiffel later established a separate company to manage the tower, putting up half the necessary capital himself.
The projected tower had been a subject of some controversy, attracting criticism from both those who did not believe that it was feasible and those who objected on artistic grounds, whose objections were an expression of a longstanding debate about the relationship between architecture and engineering. This came to a head as work began at the Champ de Mars: A “Committee of Three Hundred” (one member for each meter of the tower’s height) was formed, led by the prominent architect Charles Garnier and including some of the most important figures of the French arts establishment, including Adolphe Bouguereau, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet: a petition was sent to Charles Alphand, the Minister of Works and Commissioner for the Exposition, and was published by Le Temps on 14 February 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 … To bring our arguments home, 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 Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.
Gustave Eiffel responded to these criticisms by comparing his tower to the Egyptian Pyramids: “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?” These criticisms were also masterfully dealt with by Édouard Lockroy in a letter of support written to Alphand, ironically saying “Judging by the stately swell of the rhythms, the beauty of the metaphors, the elegance of its delicate and precise style, one can tell that…this protest is the result of collaboration of the most famous writers and poets of our time”, and going on to point out that the protest was irrelevant since the project had been decided upon months before and was already under construction. Indeed, Garnier had been a member of the Tower Commission that had assessed the various proposals, and had raised no objection. Eiffel was similarly unworried, pointing out to a journalist that it was premature to judge the effect of the tower solely on the basis of the drawings, that the Champ de Mars was distant enough from the monuments mentioned in the protest for there to be little risk of the tower overwhelming them, and putting the aesthetic argument for the Tower: “Do not the laws of natural forces always conform to the secret laws of harmony?”
Some of the protestors were to change their minds when the tower was built: others remained unconvinced. Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the tower’s restaurant every day because it was the one place in Paris where the tower was not visible.
Before 1918 it had become a symbol for Paris and for France, when Guillaume Apollinaire made a nationalist poem in the shape of the tower (a calligram) to express his feelings about the war against Germany. It is widely considered now to be a striking piece of structural art, and is often featured in films and literature.
Work on the foundations started on 28 January 1887. Those for the east and south legs were straightforward, each leg resting on four 2 m (6.6 ft) concrete slabs, one for each of the principal girders of each leg but the other two, being closer to the river Seine, were more complicated: each slab needed two piles installed by using compressed-air caissons 15 m (49 ft) long and 6 m (20 ft) in diameter driven to a depth of 22 m (72 ft) to support the concrete slabs, which were 6 m (20 ft) thick. Each of these slabs supported a block built of limestone each with an inclined top to bear a supporting shoe for the ironwork.
Each shoe was anchored into the stonework by a pair of bolts 10 cm (4 in) in diameter and 7.5 m (25 ft) long. The foundations were complete by 30 June and the erection of the ironwork began. The very visible work on-site was complemented by the enormous amount of exacting preparatory work that was entailed: the drawing office produced 1,700 general drawings and 3,629 detailed drawings of the 18,038 different parts needed. The task of drawing the components was further complicated by the complex angles involved in the design and the degree of precision required: the position of rivet holes was specified to within 0.1 mm (0.04 in) and angles worked out to one second of arc. The finished components, some already riveted together into sub-assemblies, arrived on horse-drawn carts from the factory in the nearby Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret and were first bolted together, the bolts being replaced by rivets as construction progressed. No drilling or shaping was done on site: if any part did not fit it was sent back to the factory for alteration. In all there were 18,038 pieces joined by 2.5 million rivets.
At first the legs were constructed as cantilevers but about halfway to the first level construction was paused in order to construct a substantial timber scaffold. This caused a renewal of the concerns about the structural soundness of the project, and sensational headlines such as “Eiffel Suicide!” and “Gustave Eiffel has gone mad: he has been confined in an Asylum” appeared in the popular press. At this stage a small “creeper” crane was installed in each leg, designed to move up the tower as construction progressed and making use of the guides for the lifts which were to be fitted in each leg. The critical stage of joining the four legs at the first level was complete by the end of March 1888. Although the metalwork had been prepared with the utmost precision, provision had been made to carry out small adjustments in order to precisely align the legs: hydraulic jacks were fitted to the shoes at the base of each leg, each capable of exerting a force of 800 tonnes, and in addition the legs had been intentionally constructed at a slightly steeper angle than necessary, being supported by sandboxes on the scaffold. Although construction involved 300 on-site employees, only one person died thanks to Eiffel’s stringent safety precautions and use of movable stagings, guard-rails, and screens.
Equipping the Tower with adequate and safe passenger lifts was a major concern of the government commission overseeing the Exposition. Although some visitors could be expected to climb to the first or even the second stage, the main means of ascent clearly had to be elevators. Constructing them to reach the first platform was relatively straightforward: the legs of the lower section were wide enough and so nearly straight that they could contain a straight track, and a contract was given to the French company Roux, Combaluzier and Lepape for two elevators to be fitted in the east and west legs.
Roux, Combaluzier and Lepape used a pair of endless chains with rigid, articulated links to which the car was attached. Lead weights on some links of the chains’ upper or return sections counterbalanced most of the car’s weight. The car was pushed up by the links below, not drawn by those above: to prevent the chain buckling it was enclosed in a conduit. At the bottom of the run the chains passed around 3.9 m (12 ft 10 in) diameter sprockets. Smaller sprockets at the top guided the chains.
The lifts to the second platform presented a more complex problem, because a straight track was not possible. No French company was willing to undertake the work. The European branch of Otis Brothers & Company (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/otis-elevator/) submitted a proposal but this was rejected: the fair’s charter ruled out the use of any foreign material in the construction of the Tower. The deadline for bids was extended, but still no French companies put themselves forward, and eventually the contract was given to Otis in July 1887.
Otis had been confident that they would eventually be given the contract and had already started design studies. The car was divided into two superimposed compartments, each holding 25 passengers, with the lift operator occupying an exterior platform on the lower level. Motive power was provided by an inclined hydraulic ram, 12.67 m (36 ft) long 96.5 cm (38 in) diameter 10.83 m 35 ft 6 in stroke in the tower leg: this moved a carriage carrying six sheaves. Five fixed sheaves were mounted higher up the leg, producing an arrangement similar to a block and tackle but acting in reverse, multiplying the stroke of the piston rather than the force generated. The hydraulic pressure in the driving cylinder was produced by a large open reservoir on the second platform. After being exhausted from the cylinder, the water was pumped back up to the reservoir by two pumps in the machinery room at the base of the south leg. This reservoir also provided power to the lifts to the first level.
The original elevators from the second to the third floor were supplied by Léon Edoux. A pair of 81 m (266 ft) hydraulic rams were mounted on the second level, reaching nearly halfway up to the third level. One lift car was mounted on top of these rams: cables ran from the top of this car up to sheaves on the third level and then back down to a second car. Each car only travelled half the distance between the second and third levels and passengers were required to change lifts halfway by means of a short gangway. The ten-ton cars held 65 passengers each.
The main structural work was completed at the end of March 1889 and on the 31st Eiffel celebrated this by leading a group of government officials, accompanied by representatives of the press, to the top of the tower. Since the elevators were not yet in operation, the ascent was made by foot, and took over an hour, Eiffel frequently stopping to make explanations of various features. Most of the party chose to stop at the lower levels, but a few, including Nouguier, Compagnon, the President of the City Council and reporters from Le Figaro and Le Monde Illustré completed the climb. At 2:35 Eiffel hoisted a large French flag, to the accompaniment of a 25-gun salute fired from the lower level.There was still work to be done, particularly on the elevators and the fitting out of the facilities for visitors, and the tower was not opened to the public until nine days after the opening of the Exposition on 6 May: even then the elevators had not been completed. The tower was an immediate success with the public, and nearly 30,000 visitors made the 1,710-step climb to the top using the stairs before the elevators entered service on 26 May. Tickets cost 2 francs for the first level, 3 for the second, and 5 for the top, with half-price admission on Sundays, and by the end of the exhibition there had been 1,896,987 visitors.
After dark the tower was lit by hundreds of gas lamps and a beacon sending out three beams of red, white and blue light. Two searchlights were mounted on a circular rail, and were used to illuminate various features of the Exposition. The opening and closing of the Exposition were announced every day by a cannon fired from the top.
On the second level, the French newspaper Le Figaro had an office and a printing press, where a special souvenir edition, Le Figaro de la Tour, was produced. There was also a pâtisserie. On the third level there was a post office, where visitors could send letters or postcards as a memento of their visit. Graffitists were also catered for: sheets of paper were mounted on the walls for visitors to record their impressions: these were replaced daily. Gustave Eiffel describes some of the responses as “vraiment curieuse”.
Famous visitors to the tower included The Prince of Wales, Sarah Bernhardt, “Buffalo Bill Cody (his Wild West show was an attraction at the Exposition) and Thomas Edison. Edison was invited by Eiffel to his private apartment at the top of the tower, where Edison presented him with one of his phonographs: this invention was one of the sensations of the Exposition. Edison signed the guestbook with the following message:
To M Eiffel the 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 including the Great Engineer the Bon Dieu, Thomas Edison.
Eiffel had a permit for the tower to stand for 20 years; it was to be dismantled in 1909, when its ownership would revert to the City of Paris. The City had planned to tear it down (part of the original contest rules for designing a tower was that it should be easy to demolish) but as the tower proved valuable for communication purposes it was allowed to remain after the expiry of the permit. Eiffel made use of his apartment at the top level of the tower to carry out meteorological observations, and also made use of the tower to perform experiments on the action of air resistance on falling bodies.
When built, the first level contained three restaurants (one French, one Russian and one Flemish) and an “Anglo-American Bar”. After the exposition closed the Flemish restaurant was converted to a 250-seat theatre. A 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in) promenade ran around the outside. On the third level there were laboratories for various experiments and a small apartment reserved for Gustave Eiffel to entertain guests. This is now visible to the public, complete with period decorations and lifelike models of Gustave and some guests.
The arrangement of the lifts has been changed several times during the course of the Tower’s history.
Owing to the elasticity of the cables and the time taken to get the cars level with the landings, each elevator in normal service takes an average of 8 minutes and 50 seconds to do the round trip, spending an average of 1 minute and 15 seconds at each floor. The average journey time between floors is just 1 minute. The 1899 east and west hydraulic mechanism works are on display to the public in a small museum in the base of the east and west towers, which is somewhat hidden from public view. Because the massive mechanism requires frequent lubrication and attention, public access is often restricted. The rope mechanism of the north tower is visible to visitors as they exit from the elevator.
Gustave Eiffel engraved on the tower seventy-two names of French scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in recognition of their contributions. Eiffel chose this “invocation of science” because of his concern over the artists’ protests against the tower. This engraving was painted over at the beginning of the twentieth century but restored in 1986–1987 by the Société Nouvelle d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, a company contracted to operate business related to the Tower.
In order to give the appearance of uniform color, the paint used is graduated in tone to counteract the effect of atmospheric perspective, and is lighter at the bottom, getting darker toward the top. Periodically the color of the paint is changed; as of 2013 it is bronze colored. On the first floor there are interactive consoles hosting a poll for the color to use for the next repaint.
The only non-structural elements are the four decorative grillwork arches, added in Sauvestre’s sketches, which served to make the structure look more substantial, and to make a more impressive entrance to the Exposition.
The tower has two restaurants: Le 58 tour Eiffel, on the first floor and the Le Jules Verne, a gourmet restaurant on the second floor, with a private lift. This restaurant has one star in the Michelin Red Guide. It is run by the multi-Michelin star chef Alain Ducasse.
Here is a sample lunch menu from Le 58
Norwegian smoked salmon with mascarpone and a citrus reduction
Roasted chicken breast casserole, fondant potatoes and beans with a truffle oil emulsion
Chocolate praline crisp with crème anglaise (vanilla cream sauce)
Wine (1 bottle for 3 people): Bordeaux Chateau Lagorce (red), Chateau Tariquet (white) or Côtes de Provence Ramatuelles (rosé)
Still or sparkling mineral water
Le Jules Verne has its own website: