Eiffel Tower, 1889
Tower was designed by the French engineer and bridge builder Alexandre
Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) for the Paris Exposition of 1889. The tower
is 300 m (984 ft) high and consists of an open iron framework making it
the highest manmade structure in the world at the time. It was the
attraction at the Exposition and today it remains the most recognized
in all of Europe.
It was nearly
awarded the contract to build the tower, Eiffel discovered that the
Committee would only grant about a fourth of the monies needed to
it. Eiffel himself would have to finance the balance. He struck a deal
that would make him a very rich man. He agreed to independently find
funders for his tower but he wanted sole control of the tower and its
for twenty years. They agreed. In a surprise to everyone, including
the tower was paid off in the first year.
The deal that
Eiffle hammered out is probably what saved the tower from destruction.
Many in the arts and civic leaders felt the tower was an abomination.
have only erected the framework of this monument, It has no skin"
The whole idea
that iron -- just iron -- could be beautiful, flew in the face of
history. Everyone knew that the great cathedrals and palaces had all
built of stone with the careful craft of ornamentation which adorned
Sure, iron can play a part in an unseen, underlying structure such had
been done with the Statue of Liberty, but
to leave it exposed was just poor taste. It was like showing your dirty
of Three Hundred was formed and they petitioned for its demise:
compatriot, we come, writers, painters, sculptors, architects,
lovers of the beauty of Paris -- a beauty until now unspoiled -- to
with all our might, with all our outrage, in the name of slighted
taste, in the name of threatened French art and history, against the
in the heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.
may have taken
every bit of those twenty years to change some people's minds. All of
other iron buildings built for the Exposition were torn down shortly
(a shame). Today we look upon Eiffel's tower as anything but
Mary Louis King calls it "a monument to nineteenth century
engineering and a frank display of structure and material."
Are we going
to allow all this beauty and tradition to be profaned? Is Paris now to
be associated with the grotesque and mercantile imagination of a
builder, to be defaced and disgraced? Even the commercial Americans
not want this Eiffel Tower which is, without any doubt, a dishonor to
We all know this, everyone says it, everyone is deeply troubled by it.
We, the Committee, are but a faint echo of universal sentiment, which
so legitimately outraged. When foreign visitors come to our universal
they will cry out in astonishment," What!? Is this the atrocity that
French present to us as the representative of their vaunted national
And they will be right to laugh at us, because the Paris of the sublime
Gothic, the Paris of Jean Goujon, of Germain Pilon, Puget, Rude, Barye,
etc. will have become the Paris of Monsieur Eiffel.
Listen to our
plea! Imagine now a ridiculous tall tower dominating Paris like a
black factory smokestack, crushing with its barbaric mass Notre Dame,
Chapelle, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the dome of Les
the Arc de Triomphe, all our humiliated monuments, all our dwarfed
which will be annihilated by Eiffel's hideous fantasy. For twenty
over the city of Paris still vibrant with the genius of so many
we shall see, spreading out like a blot of ink, the shadow of this
column of bolted tin.9
of iron, it is an inherently inferior material and a single beam is
to withstand large stresses. That is why the tower appears over
by today's standards. Though, from this very weakness its' simple
is found. If you look at the tower, the tight lattice work of beams
of mimic the biological cellular structure of a plant.
In 1855, Sir
Henry Bessmer discovered a process of converting iron into steel
making it much stronger and lighter, but the evolution from invention
practical use and mass production took many years. Steel would
replace iron and would bring the "sky scraper" to the city skylines of
America and in 1885 (actually four years prior to the Eiffel's tower),
William LeBaron Jenney built the Home Insurance Building in Chicago --
the first sky scraper.
King, "A History of Western Architecture" pp.175-195)