A Week to Remember: The Eiffel Tower

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Stages of construction of the Eiffel Tower

On March 31, 1889, French engineer Gustave Eiffel led a group of government officials and members of the press on the first trip to the top of the Paris tower that bears his name.

The Eiffel Tower was built as the central showpiece for the 1889 Paris World's Fair. Engineers at Eiffel's firm drew the first sketches for the tower in 1884. Eiffel was not enthusiastic about the plans at first, but after a few revisions, he purchased the rights to the design from the engineers and began presenting them to the French government.

In 1886, the government adopted a budget for the World's Fair. Their call for proposals for a centerpiece made the choice of Eiffel's tower a foregone conclusion, since the design had to include a 300-meter tower. Eiffel signed the contract to build the tower in January 1887. He made the deal under his own name, not that of his company. The contract only paid Eiffel about one-fourth of the estimated building costs, but in exchange, he was to receive all income generated by the tower for 20 years, after which time the plan was to dismantle the tower.

A large group of French artists, calling themselves the "Committee of Three Hundred" (one for every meter of the tower's height), objected to the tower, claiming that it would be a blight on the Paris skyline that would so dominate the landscape as to obliterate the city's other important landmarks and attractions. Many of those artists came to admire the finished tower, but some never overcame their objections; it was said that the writer Guy de Maupassant ate lunch in the tower's restaurant every day because it was the only place in Paris from which he did not have to see the tower.

Construction of the tower took more than two years. The elevators were a particular challenge, because the narrow curved sides meant that the elevators could not travel along a straight track. The tower was not quite ready for the public when the exposition opened on May 5, 1889; it didn't open until nine days later. And for almost two weeks, visitors had to climb the tower by stair, because the elevators didn't go into operation until May 26.

Almost 30,000 people were willing to climb those stairways, and by the time the World's Fair closed at the end of October, almost 2,000,000 fairgoers had visited the tower. The original plans to demolish the tower after twenty years were abandoned. Today, nearly 7,000,000 people visit the Eiffel Tower each year, and more than 250,000,000 have visited since its opening.

Jill Jonnes's Eiffel's Tower (e-book | print) is the history of the Eiffel Tower, the controversy surrounding its construction, and the World's Fair that introduced it to the world. Beatrice Colin's novel To Capture What We Cannot Keep (e-book | e-audio | print) is a romance set against the construction of the tower, and Claude Izner's Murder on the Eiffel Tower (e-book | print) takes place during the World's Fair, when a mysterious death threatens the popularity of the new attraction.

The origami artist Yee gives you instructions on how to build your own Eiffel Tower in Origami Architecture (e-book | print), and California composer Lou Harrison offers the ballet suite Marriage at the Eiffel Tower (e-music).

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