History, Construction, and Controversy Surrounding the Eiffel Tower
History, Construction, and Controversy Surrounding the Eiffel Tower The Eiffel Tower is one of France’s most notable landmarks and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It has been visited by roughly 243,376,000 people between its opening in 1889 through the end of 2008 (Official Site, 2008). Recently, it has averaged over 6. 5 million visitors annually. In 2007 alone, its visitor total reached an astonishing 6,822,000 individuals (Mills, 2008). The Eiffel Tower stands next to the Seine River in Paris on the Champ de Mars, a large public green-space.
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To commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution, France held the Universal Exhibition of 1889 in Paris. In preparation for the event, a large design competition began, hosted by the Journal Officiel, to “study the possibility of erecting an iron tower on the Champ-de-Mars” (Official Site, 2008). The design specifications detailed the height of tower, the width of the mandatory square-shaped base, and also stated that it must be one that could be easily demolished.
Over 700 proposals were submitted to the journal, but “one was unanimously chosen” (Mills, 2008). It was the work of Gustave Eiffel, a French structural engineer and entrepreneur, from whom the tower eventually got its name. But he alone did not deserve all the credit. Eiffel designed the tower with the help of engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier and architect Stephen Sauvestre. Before the construction of the tower, Gustave Eiffel was already an experienced engineer.
Locally, he built several other structures in Paris and other parts of France. However, his work did not stop there. He travelled all across Europe, to countries including Romania, Spain, Hungary, Belgium and Portugal, where evidence of his work can still be seen to this day. Lots of his projects involved “constructing high level railway viaducts” (Link Paris, 2009). In addition, Eiffel expanded his sphere of influence even further by traversing the Atlantic and working in the Americas.
Besides lending his expertise in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico, he is also responsible for designing and building the wrought-iron internal structure for the Statue of Liberty in New York. For a time, Eiffel was even involved with the French Panama Canal Company in an unsuccessful attempt to design the Panama Canal, which was later accomplished by the Americans. Despite all his previous engineering experience, Eiffel had never before attempted to construct anything of this magnitude.
According to the rules for the design competition, the tower had to be 300 meters high, which is over 984 feet. Once complete, the tower would be the tallest man-made structure in the world. At the time, there was no one better than Gustave Eiffel to head up the project. After all, he was “the leading European authority on the aerodynamics of high frames” (Mills, 2008). When considering where to begin with designing the tower, Eiffel had one main concern: “Resistance to wind” (Official Site, 2008).
With this in mind, he decided to use an open lattice framework, a design he borrowed from his previous experience with railway viaducts. As stated in his response letter, published in the French newspaper Le Temps, Eiffel described the reasoning behind the shape of the tower: “Well, I maintain that the curves of the four groin vaults of the monument, based on calculations, … are going to taper up to the summit, will give a great impression of strength and beauty, because they will convey to the eyes the boldness of the conception in its totality.
Similarly, the numerous empty spaces that are part of the plan, … will bear strong witness to the constant concern of not uselessly sacrificing to violent thunderstorms surfaces that pose a danger to the stability of the edifice” (Official Site, 2008). Therefore, the tower was explicitly designed to withstand the strong gusts of the wind. Extremely specific calculations were determined for construction of the base supports, called pylons. This was done so that the “forces of the wind were progressively transformed into forces of compression” (Mills, 2008).
It is because of this innovation that even in very high winds the tower only has a “sway of 12 centimeters at most” (Corrosion Doctors). Construction on the tower began on January 26, 1887. Workers started by clearing the site and excavating the trenches for the foundations, one in each corner of the square. While this was occurring, some 300 workers began building the nearly 18,000 different pieces of puddle iron, from which the tower would be constructed. After digging the foundation ditches, workers discovered that they would need to reinforce the foundations on the side of the tower closest to the Seine River.
This “required air-compressed foundations using corrugated steel caissons five meters under water” (Official Site, 2008). Once the foundations were laid, 15 meters underground, each of the four base pylons were set within them, measuring exactly 125 meters apart on every side. With the help of jacks, an original scaffolding system and cranes, along with 2. 5 million rivets, workers constructed the tower (Link Paris, 2009). The base pylons angle inward and upward to the first platform, which stands 57 meters off the ground.
Above the first level, the pylons continue to narrow leading up to the second level of the tower. Stemming from the second platform is one cohesive column, culminating with the highest platform of the tower. The second and third levels of the Eiffel Tower stand 115 meters and 276 meters high, respectively. To allow visitors to commute between levels, stairs were built within the tower from the ground all the way to the third platform 1,710 stairs total (Official Site, 2008). These stairs even included a narrow spiral staircase between the second and third levels.
In addition to these staircases, the tower was also equipped with five elevator systems. Each pillar had its own elevator, carrying passengers between the ground and first and second levels. Furthermore, a one-of-a-kind elevator, operated by 80 meter long jacks, was used between the second and third platforms. Nowadays, visitors can choose to take either the stairs, which are accessible to the public only as high as the second platform, or they can ride the elevators, which continue to the top level of the tower.
Over two years after construction began, the Eiffel Tower was finally finished. It was inaugurated on March 31, 1889, and was opened to the public on May 6, 1889 by the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII of England (Corrosion Doctors). Including the flagpole on its peak, the tower stood 312 meters high, earning the title of the world’s tallest structure. That is, until it was surpassed by New York City’s Chrysler Building in 1929. Now, the Eiffel Tower now reaches 324 meters high a measurement including the antenna, which was added in 2000.
Today, the tower still remains Paris’ tallest structure. Because of its overwhelming popularity, most people may not know about the controversy surrounding the Eiffel Tower. After the design for the tower was chosen, not everyone was pleased with the idea. Some 300 people signed a petition against its construction, including many influential French writers and architect Charles Granier. The petition began, “We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigour and all our ndignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower” (Mills, 2008). One petitioner, French author Guy de Maupassant, even went as far as to permanently leave Paris “to avoid looking at its ‘metallic carcass’. ” (Link Paris, 2009) Not only were prominent individuals disgusted with the tower proposal, but also some French citizens were opposed to it, as well. Environmentalists tried to argue that birds might be harmed if a colossal tower was sticking up into the sky. Others said it was going to be nothing but an eyesore.
An excerpt from the petition letter, which was published in Le Temps, compares the Eiffel Tower to France’s other works of architecture saying: “Imagine for a moment a dizzyingly ridiculous tower dominating Paris, as well as a gigantic black factory chimney completely crushing with its barbaric mass Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Saint-Jacques tower, the Louvre, the Invalides’ dome, the Arc de Triomphe, all our monuments humiliated, all our architecture belittled …” (Official Site, 2008) Gustave Eiffel responded with his own letter, which stated, among other things, “The Tower will have its own beauty [and] … will be the highest edifice ever raised by man” (Official Site, 2008). Despite the opposition and controversy, the plan for the tower came to fruition. After its completion, it was celebrated by many people. Even some of those who were initially against it had a change of heart. The majestic tower stood tall on the Champ de Mars for twenty years. At which time, Gustave Eiffel’s permit for the tower would run out, meaning that it would have to be disassembled. This did not come as a surprise to anyone because the original design contest specifically spelled out these details. However, the tower was spared “because of its antenna, [which was] used both for military and other purposes” (Corrosion Doctors).
Ownership of the tower was transferred to the City of Paris in 1909 after Eiffel’s permit expired. Since 2005, the city has contracted a company by the name of Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel. This company is responsible for maintaining and operating the tower on a daily basis. Part of that maintenance involves painting the tower every seven years, a process which requires at least 40 tons of paint. Over 500 people are employed to work in various places inside the tower, including the souvenir shops and the tower’s two restaurants. When in Paris, this is one attraction that visitors must absolutely go see. An astonishing view of all of Paris can be seen from the top level of the Eiffel Tower.
Many people have enjoyed the beauty of Paris’ greatest landmark, and many more will continue to do so in the years to come. References Corrosion Doctors. Eiffel Tower History. Retrieved on April 26, 2009 from: http://corrosion-doctors. org/Landmarks/eiffel-history. htm Mills, I. C. 2008. The Eiffel Tower, Paris. Retrieved on April 26, 2009 from: http://www. discoverfrance. net/France/Paris/Monuments-Paris/Eiffel. shtml Link Paris. 2009. Eiffel Tower. Retrieved on April 26, 2009 from: http://www. linkparis. com/eiffel-tower. htm The Official Site of the Eiffel Tower. 2008. All You Need to Know About the Eiffel Tower. Retrieved on April 26, 2009 from: http://www. tour-eiffel. fr/teiffel/uk/documentation/pdf/about_the%20Eiffel_Tower. pdf? id=4_11