The birth of the Eiffel tower

A realized utopia

Eiffel Tower

You are at the top of the Eiffel Tower, overlooking Paris at a height of almost 300 m / 1000 feet.

At the opening of the Tower in 1889, this very place was different from what you are seeing.

Le Campanile et le Phare de la tour Eiffel - Les merveilles de l'Exposition 1889 by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

It was used, in particular, as a laboratory to carry out scientific experiments and measurements. Many instruments were installed here such as barometers, anemometers, lightning conductors.

In fact, Gustave Eiffel arranged an office for himself at the very top of the Tower for astronomical and physiological observations. He even installed a weather station.

It was these scientific experiments carried at the Tower which saved it from being destroyed by popular demand. Did you know the Tower should have been pulled down just 20 years after it was erected for the 1889 Exposition Universelle!

Affiche - Chemin de fer Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée - Exposition Universelle 1889 - Paris by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

For the 1889 Universal Exhibition, marking the centenary of the French Revolution, a great competition was announced in the country's Official Gazette.

Universal exhibitions were a technological and industrial showcase for nations, testifying to the achievements made during the industrial revolution.

Le Champ de Mars et l'Ecole Militaire depuis les hauteurs du Trocadéro avant la construction de la tour Eiffel by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

The 1889 competition consisted of "studying the possibility of erecting on the Champ-de-Mars a 300-metre tower with a 125m2 square base". 

The Champ-de-Mars and the Military school as seen from the Trocadéro before the construction of the Eiffel Tower.

Concours pour l'Exposition universelle de 1889 - Projet primé de M. Dutest - Dessin de O. du Bré, © Parisienne de photographie - Collections Harlingue / Roger-Viollet, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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Selected from among 107 projects, it was that of Gustave Eiffel, an entrepreneur, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, both engineers, and Stephen Sauvestre, an architect, that was accepted.

Gustave Eiffel en pied dans l'escalier de la tour Eiffel by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

A brilliant engineer, Gustave Eiffel founded a company specialising in metal structural work.

In this sense the Eiffel Tower was the very height of his career. He devoted the last thirty years of his life to experimental research.

Portrait de Gustave Eiffel vers 1889, © Collection tour Eiffel, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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This enthusiast and true genius was able to transcend his own limits to leave us monuments such as the dome on the Nice Observatory, the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty and the Bordeaux railway bridge.

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Bureau des Etudes de Gustave Eiffel - La Tour Soleil de Bourdais, projet concurrent de la tour Eiffel (calque à la plume) by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

The competition held at the time of the 1889 Exposition Universelle received several other entries for 300-metre towers.

A serious component was the project of Jules Bourdais, he was the architect of Palais du Trocadéro. 

He imagined a tower of 300 m based only of stone.

Dessin projet de MM Eiffel, Nouguier et Koechlin by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

In June 1884, Emile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin, the two chief engineers in Eiffel's company, came up with the idea of building a very tall tower. It was to be designed like a large pylon.

It would have four columns of latticework girders, separated at the base and coming together at the top, and joined to each other by more metal girders at regular intervals.

Pylône de 300m de hauteur pour la ville de Paris - 1889 - Avant Projet de MM Nouguier et Koechlin by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

The company had by this time perfectly mastered the principle of building bridge supports. The tower project was a bold extension of this principle up to a height of 300 metres - equivalent to the symbolic figure of 1,000 feet.

The company had by this time perfectly mastered the principle of building bridge supports. The tower project was a bold extension of this principle up to a height of 300 metres - equivalent to the symbolic figure of 1,000 feet.

Reproductions des planches originales de Gustave Eiffel by © Collection tour EiffelEiffel Tower

On 18 September 1884, Eiffel registered a patent “for a new configuration allowing the construction of metal supports and pylons capable of exceeding a height of 300 metres”.

Sauvestre proposed stonework pedestals to dress the legs, monumental arches to link the four columns and the first level, large glass-walled halls on each level, a bulb-shaped design for the top and various other ornamental features to decorate the whole of the structure.

Reproductions des planches originales de Gustave Eiffel, © Collection tour Eiffel, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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The first floor - Copy of Gustave Eiffel's original plates

Reproductions des planches originales de Gustave Eiffel, © Collection tour Eiffel, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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The second floor - Copy of Gustave Eiffel's original plates

Reproductions des planches originales de Gustave Eiffel, © Collection tour Eiffel, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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The top - Copy of Gustave Eiffel's original plates

Reproductions des planches originales de Gustave Eiffel, © Collection tour Eiffel, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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Antennas - Copy of Gustave Eiffel's original plates

Travaux de la tour Eiffel - Premier étage de la Tour en arrière plan le Trocadéro - Janvier 1888, © Collection tour Eiffel, From the collection of: Eiffel Tower
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The first digging work started on 26 January 1887 and marked the beginning of the Tower's construction.

Credits: Story

Conception—Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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