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eiffel tower

Eiffel Tower at sunset.

EIFFEL TOWER, Paris

The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England, opened the tower.

Of the 107 proposals in a competition, it was the design submitted by chief engineers (Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier) from Gustave Eiffel’s company that was unanimously chosen, but not universally accepted.  As construction began, artists (including Charles Gounod, Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas junior, Francois Coppee and Charles Garnier and many more) signed their names to the “Protest against the Tower of Monsieur Eiffel” and had it published in Le Temps newspaper.  They were fearful that this “useless and monstrous,” “stupefying folly” would overshadow and bring dishonor to their beloved Paris.

Already known for engineering bridge supports (and for building the structure of The Statue of Liberty) Eiffel and his team were confident they could design something that would meet the 300 meter (1000 feet) mark, and architect Stephen Sauvestre was brought in to improve the project’s public appeal.  Elements he added, like the large arches at the base, are what give this engineering marvel its stand out appearance.  By the time construction was complete, The Eiffel Tower met enormous popular success—receiving two million visitors during the World Fair of 1889.  Charles Gounod was, in time, a personal guest for coffee in Eiffel’s private apartment in the top of the tower.

At 300 meters (320.75m including antenna) and 7000 tons, it was the world’s tallest building until 1930. Up to 300 workers on site assembled the 18,000 iron pieces in just over two years.  It took four men to install each of 2.5 million rivets:  one to heat it up, one to hold it in place, one to shape the head and a fourth to beat it with a sledgehammer!  Building “The Iron Lady” was a technical and architectural feat, boasting innovations in engineering and height.  Construction was done in record time, new technology supplied the lifts and the lighting, and ground breaking work ensured the tower could withstand the effects of nature.  Eiffel was fascinated with aerodynamics and built his tower to withstand the almost constant high winds that would barrage the top, resulting in just a 12 cm sway.  (Weather also affects the height of the Eiffel Tower which can vary up to 15 cm as ambient temperatures cause the iron to expand and contract.)

Surprisingly, the Eiffel Tower was never meant to be permanent.  The initial contest requirements included easily removing the structure at the end of a 20 year lease of the land.  Ever the entrepreneur, Eiffel set about finding practical uses that would justify The Tower’s continued existence.  He immediately installed a meteorology laboratory on the 3rd floor where he could pursue interests that included astronomy and physiology.  The structure itself was outfitted with all kinds of instruments of scientific observation, including thermometers, barometers and manometers.  He personally conducted experiments to study wind and gravity and electrical lighting and he encouraged the scientific and physiological studies of others as well.

The Tower also became an important tool for communications and broadcasting.  Advances in telegraph, radio and then telecommunication technology were all hastened with the ability to use the tower as an enormous antenna.  The world’s first wireless transmissions were made from a transmitter installed on the tower by Captain Ferre and the French military (with funding by Eiffel).  When the military was able to intercept strategic enemy messages and stop spies (including Mata Hari) The Eiffel Tower was found indispensable.

Lighting has always played a role at The Tower.  Its first night, the structure glowed with 10,000 gas street lamps and a colored beacon swept over Paris, rotating red, white and blue.  From a thousand lightbulb chandelier to animated advertising to a colorful salute of rugby to beautiful presentations in celebration of its own birthdays, light bulbs and projection methods have changed and improved, but the lighting at The Eiffel Tower still continues to dazzle onlookers.  After his daring flight from New York and across the Atlantic, Charles A. Lindbergh said it was the thousand lights on The Tower that illuminated his way to Paris.

Another interesting look through The Tower’s history might trace its relationship with time itself.  In the beginning, Parisians could set their watches by the sound of a cannon fired from the Eiffel Tower every day at noon.  In 1907, a giant clock was attached at the second floor level, with 20 foot high, luminous numbers the clock could be seen from quite a distance.  In 1910, the structure was again an important instrument of science, when an international time organization used the Eiffel Tower to broadcast radio time signals, which would not just synchronize time around the globe but also make it possible to measure the exact position of longitudes.  In 1933, a 20 meter wide clock was installed 200 meters up the tower—multicolored light rays, lit one after the other, indicated the movement of hours and minutes.  A huge countdown clock hung on the Eiffel Tower to count down the remaining 1000 days to the year 2000 and the Millennium itself was celebrated with a fire and light show at The Tower that was broadcast all over the world.

There have now been over 250 million visitors to the Eiffel Tower, most of them not from France.  Celebrities and people of renown from all over the world have come to admire the most visited monument you must pay to see.  And people all over the world who can’t visit in person have probably seen the famous tower featured in a movie or represented in art.  There are restaurants and shops in the Tower and both permanent and temporary displays.  In the winter there is ice skating.  Entertainment is frequent and sometimes spectacular.  Special events have included competitions (climbing the stairs with everything from elephant feet to motocross bikes), concerts, art exhibits, a ballet and more than one acrobat.

Iron can rust and painting the Iron Lady is a huge undertaking that occurs every seven years and can take 18 months.  The Tower remains open to tourists as 25 painters (hanging from rigging) examine, strip and repaint the whole thing by hand.  It takes 60 tons of paint and is shaded lighter towards the top so that the distance doesn’t change the color we perceive.  The color itself has changed some over the years and is now a rich bronze.  The first floor has undergone extensive renovation and Eiffel’s office has been restored.  The Eiffel Tower will be around for millions more visitors to appreciate.

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