History, Construction, and Controversy Surrounding the Eiffel Tower

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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.

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...
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