As a student, I learned an amazing factoid about the Eiffel Tower, in my Introduction to Radio 101 class. The tower was scheduled to be demolished at the end of the Paris International Exposition’s 20-year lease in 1909. Officials decided to keep the structure in place because it was useful to radio technology. Hence, it is pretty much the same today as it was in 1899, thanks to broadcasting.
To honor the centennial year of the French Revolution, France’s government proposed an 1889 Exposition Universelle or World’s Fair. In 1884, the official committee announced a design competition for the entrance arch to be located on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. The following year Gustave Eiffel presented his paper on the project to the French Society of Engineers.
Although the competition was billed as open to all, the design terms and plans effectively made a foregone conclusion, the choice of Eiffel’s design and plan. The exact siting and other details were ironed out and the contract was signed on January 8, 1887 by Gustave Eiffel acting as his own agent. The government granted his 1.5 million francs to seed the construction costs. Mr. Eiffel was to receive all of the commercial income generated by the Exposition and any received for 20-years, henceforth.
The Tower project did not proceed with wide public acclaim. Eiffel’s critics included important leaders in the architecture and artist communities. A “Committee of Three Hundred” sent a petition to the authorities for the Exposition. In effect, they believed the Tower would overshadow the other grand monuments of the city of Paris.
The architect and his supporters countered the argument by claiming the Tower would be as beautiful as the Egyptian Pyramids. It would also be the tallest structure ever built by humanity. With legal technicalities finally settled, foundation construction began on January 28th.
Exacting preparatory work had also finished. There were some 1,700 overall drawings plus 3,629 detailed sketches of the 18,038 separate parts used. The high number of drawings was necessary because of the complex angles in the shape and the extreme degree of precision required for safe construction and stability of the Tower. The angles were designed to within one second of arc and the rivet holes were punched to within 0.1 mm of precision. Some sub-assemblies were constructed at the factory, then hauled onto the site.
There was another aspect that needed a solution. The way to the top of the Tower necessitated the use of passenger elevators. The lifts to the first platform were built in the East and West legs at an angle by straight tracks by Roux, Combaluzier & Lepape. The cars were powered by one pair, each, of endless chains with lead counterweights.
Elevators beyond the first platform were more complicated because a straight track was not possible. No European company had any practical design for such an elevator design. The problem was further complicated by a clause in the fair charter that prohibited the use of foreign material in the Tower. Finally, the European division of Otis Brothers & Company’s proposal was given an exemption in July of 1887. The Otis design provided a two compartment car to hold a total of 50 passengers plus an external platform below the compartments for the lift operator. The driving force was via a block and tackle-like hydraulic pressure system.
The entire project came together in only two years and under budget. Remarkably, only one worker was killed during the construction, which was a very low number for such a project in its day. This was because of Eiffel’s inclusion of special handrails and other safety-oriented precautions that were pre-designed into the overall plan of the Tower.
Even though finishing touches on the elevators would not be complete until later, the Tower was proclaimed finished by the end of March of 1889. On March 31st, the architect and some brave companions climbed the stairways. They hoisted a large French flag. Fireworks were set off from the second platform. Immediately afterwards, Eiffel and dignitaries addressed the assembled guests which included around 200 workers.
At nightfall,during the Exposition, the Tower was illuminated by hundreds of gas lamps. There was a beacon that sent out beams of red, white, and blue light. Searchlights were placed on a circular rail to illuminate features of the Exposition. A cannon at the top of the Tower was fired to announce opening and closing of the fair, each day.
The latticework, wrought iron Tower was an immediate, popular success with the public. It remained as the tallest man-made structure until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this statement by Gustave Eiffel: “I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am.”