The Eiffel Tower

Built in 1889, the Eiffel Tower played a crucial role during both the 1889 and 1900 World's Fairs. It's position as a Parisian landmark--even in the decades that followed the Exposition era-- is one of the main reasons for it's modern cultural fame.

Centuries after its initial construction as an industrial attraction for the 1889 World’s Fair (also known as the Exposition Universelles), the Eiffel tower has now become the premier symbol of Paris. In its early years, however, the massive and complex iron sculpture was just yet another “exhibition” among the countless other pieces of art and machinery—one that most Parisian natives detested because they found its style and stature to be too “modern” for the city’s seemingly timeless flair. The iconic monument has revamped Paris’ flair for presentation in the 129 years since it took its place in the famous skyline. “The Eiffel Tower is a significant example of the role which the arts of de sign, or applied arts, have played in industrializing society” (Levin 1052). The tower is just one of several remaining structures that was built to be featured in the World’s Fair of 1889. The event itself was an effort to bring the people of France back together as it was still recovering from The Franco-Prussian war. “Like the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the Paris Exposition of 1889 gave a proud face to a harrowed nation” (Brown 8). No one could predict that the soon-to-be centerpiece of the 1889 Expo would also become the centerpiece of Paris.

“On the Left Bank of the Seine, in Paris’s 7th arrondissement, on axis with the Trocadéro gardens to the north and the École Militaire to the south stands a 324 meter [1063 feet] high wrought-iron structure (Barthes 112). Named for its premier engineer, Gustave Eiffel, the purpose of the Eiffel Tower has been revealed to be much more than a mere futuristic monument. It was originally built to serve as the entrance to the 1889 Exposition, and also marked the centenary of the 1789 storming of the Bastille (112). The other structures that were also built for that particular Expo were “arranged so that they echoed its form” (Levin 1055). As for the statistics of the overall exposition, the scientists, artists, and engineers of Paris had truly outdone themselves in organizing the celebration of “France’s birthday party” (Brown 7). “Jammed onto the fairground were bigger machines, more ornate pavilions, more pompier art, a "Retrospective of the History of Work and the Anthropological Sciences, including military arts," a "History of the Human Habitat in forty- four separate displays," a replica of the Bastille, and 55,486 exhibits altogether” (7). The tower’s construction process united workers from all corners of the country—introducing many of them to new machinery and building techniques (Levin 1061). Just as the 1889 World’s Fair brought the people of the nation together, the tower itself united the people of Paris.

While it was the center of attraction during the 1889 Expo, with upwards of two million viewers when it opened, the Eiffel Tower was just as popular roughly 10 years later when Paris hosted an even bigger World’s Fair in the year 1900. By then, the record-breaking elevator system that had been designed in 1888 was reinforced for the thousands of people who would visit the monument in 1900. “Between the ground floor and the second floor: The four pillars were equipped with one or two cabins. In June 1889, five hydraulic elevators went into operation. This initial elevator technology was further modernized a decade later by Gustave Eiffel for the Universal Exposition of 1900” (Eiffel Tower Official Site). This was one of many features that set the Tower apart as a truly futuristic and innovative symbol of France. “A great part of the Eiffel Tower’s worth and its raison d’être lay in the overwhelming visual power by which it was to symbolize to a world audience the scientific, artistic, and, above all, the technical achievements of the French Republic” (Vogel 20). As for the tower’s importance to the 1900 Expo, its attraction was less pronounced than it had been a decade earlier, as several other new structures—including the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, and Pont Alexandre III—had all been built as title features nearby. Nonetheless, its record-breaking success went undefeated for several of the decades that followed. “At the time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest tower in the world and people from all countries went to the heart of the French Capital to admire this architectural masterpiece. The public hurried to experience not only the dizzy heights of the ascent, but above all an unprecedented view over Paris, since no one had yet seen the view from an aeroplane” (Eiffel Tower Official Site).

At various points in history, the Eiffel Tower was home to countless radio receivers and transmitters, an aerodynamics laboratory, an office space for Gustave Eiffel himself, a communication station for both world war, a massive restaurant space, and more. When the tower was first made open to the public for the 1889 Expo, the first floor of the tower—which could be accessed either via elevator or by a flight of 328 steps—housed 4 wooden pavilions, designed by Stephen Sauvestre. Each restaurant could seat about 500 people, and the kitchens were attached to the base structure of the tower (Eiffel Tower Official Site). Those four restaurants were demolished to make room for the International Expo of 1937. They would not be replaced until about the 1980s. As for the fate of the tower, Gustave Eiffel knew that the tower could be useful for scientific advancement and innovation in the future, and that was his reasoning for the materials, design, and overall shape. While it was set be dismantled in 1909, after a 20-year contract, it was saved because it was capable of wireless broadcasting. It was a key communications hub during World War I (Eiffel Tower Official Site).

It’s very likely that the passionate engineer could never have imagined his monument’s incredible international fame. Credited as one of the most visited monument in the world, the tower has become a literal beacon of light within the heart of its nation’s capital city.

“I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am” –Gustave Eiffel.

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Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France