Charlemagne's Works
Volume 1: Chapter 7
Featured Chapter

Volume 1 : Chapter 20

The Eiffel Tower

To give visitors an idea of the scope of our work in Building The World, we are featuring a sample chapter. Periodically, we will change the featured chapter. The first few pages will be provided online, while the entire chapter will be downloadable as a PDF document.

Modern Day Eiffel Tower
A modern-day shot of the Eiffel Tower and Champs de Mars. Courtesy of Corbis

Did you know...?

  • There were more than 5,300 plans and drawings for the Tower.
  • The Tower was built in 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, from 1887 to 1889. It was an instant financial success.
  • There were 18,000 components, made by 100 ironworkers off-site, then assembled by 130 workers on-site.
  • It measures 410 feet (125 m) on each side and stands 1,024.5 feet (312.27 m), and weighs 9,500 tons.
  • The tower sways only 4.5 inches at the top.
  • Not one fatality occurred during construction.
  • Guy de Maupassant, Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, and other luminaries signed a petition objecting strenuously to the Tower.
  • Eiffel also designed the iron framework inside the Statue of Liberty.

"We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigor and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower." Clearly, initial reaction to the Tower was mixed, as evidenced by this quote from a petition presented to the government of the City of Paris. The petition was signed by - among others -Guy de Maupasssant, Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Charles Gounod, and Paul Verlaine.

Paris's soaring, open-lattice, wrought-iron Eiffel Tower, originally built for the International Exposition of 1889 commemorating the centennial of the French Revolution, remains a universally recognized symbol of France, and indeed all Europe. Over 700 proposals had been submitted by architects, engineers, sculptors, and artists. One was selected unanimously, the design by Gustave Eiffel.

The tower became an instant icon, the site of many romantic moments, as well as staggering feats of individual bravado. In 1923, the man who would become Mayor of the district of Montmartre showed his derring-do by bicycling down the tower using its legs as a ramp! In 1954, a mountain climber scaled its height, and in 1984 two English chaps parachuted from the top.


The plan for the tower was submitted to the design competition by the civil engineer Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), already well-known for such works as the arched Gallery of Machines for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, the dome for the Nice Observatory, a harbor in Chile, a 541-foot arched bridge in Garabit, France, a pre-constructed spanned bridge in China, and an iron bridge at Bordeaux (the construction of which involved the first use of compressed air to drive piles). Eiffel's viaduct over the Truyère, which stretched 1,850 feet (564 meters), with a central arch span of 541 feet (165 meters), constituted an engineering record: with a height of 400 feet (122 meters) over the river, it was for years the world's highest bridge.

While Eiffel receives all the credit for the tower, it must be noted that the original conception for the 1889 exposition tower came from two engineers at Eiffel's firm: Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier. It took years of work by more than fifty engineers and designers to prepare the approximately 5,300 plans and drawings for the tower.

Reproduced here is the official agreement of January 8, 1887, which outlines Gustave Eiffel's construction and operation of the tower. In addition to Eiffel, it was signed by Commerce and Industry Minister, Edouard Lockroy, who, as commissioner general of the Exposition, organized the design competition, and by Eugène Poubelle, prefect of the Seine.

Once approval was given, the project proceeded at a rapid pace. Excavation commenced on January 26, 1887, and assembly of the metal structure on July 1. The tower's 18,000 component parts were made by more than 100 ironworkers at the workshops of Eiffel's company in the outskirts of Paris, and were assembled by more than 130 workers at the exposition site.

The exposition was scheduled to open on May 6, 1889. Contrary to the expectations of many observers, Eiffel easily fulfilled his commitment to complete the project on schedule, finishing on March 30, 1889. In a ceremony the following day, a small group of dignitaries accompanied Eiffel to the top where he raised a huge French flag with the letters "R. F." (République Française), and was awarded the Legion of Honor.

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