Paris began the construction of the Eiffel Tower in January 1887, and finished it March 31st, 1889. The purpose of this tower was to create something spectacular for the World’s Fair of 1889--this kind of event is a large international exhibit in which nations can show off their achievements. Gustave Eiffel patented a configuration that would allow for construction upwards of 300 meters. He also urged for the curved structure, which had the most efficient wind resistance. All construction materials were made in Eiffel’s own factory on the outskirts of Paris, which was established in 1879 as the Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel and paved the path for democratic engineering and construction. The amount of materials used equalled 18,000 pieces!
In 1879, a partnership with Théophile Seyrig dissolved, leaving Eiffel in charge of the renamed Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel.
However, it wasn’t Eiffel that designed the Eiffel Tower, it was actually Maurice Koechlin, a senior engineer who worked for Eiffel’s architecture firm. As they were all in the midst of the Industrial Age, the firm produced 5,329 drawings of the tower before and during its construction.
Before the Eiffel Tower was even completed, it was the center of much criticism from academics in both art and literature. Guy de Maupassant was quoted as saying “this high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney”. Other critics included Alexandre Dumas and Charles Garnier, who you may remember as the Opera Garnier’s architect.
The Eiffel Tower comprises 7,300 tons of metal, but its entire weight is 10,100 tons. And somehow, it has grown 39 feet, from 1,024 feet to 1,063 with the addition of its radio antenna in 1957, thus eclipsing the Chrysler Building’s height.
The Eiffel Tower has long since been a mainstay in the Parisian landscape, but it hasn’t made its way into mainstream literature quite yet. In fact, it’s referenced largely in poetry. Perhaps it’s most famous mention is in Guillaume Appollinaire’s poem entitled “Eiffel Tower” in which the poem’s structure is in the shape of the Eiffel Tower itself. This poetic structure is called a calligram, where the shape that a text takes is also usually its subject matter. Such a structure is typically found in children’s poetry books.
Raymond Queneau is another such author who drew inspiration from the Eiffel Tower, calling his inspired poem “The Skeleton Tower” after its bare-boned appearance. But it was François Coppée who wrote the first poem about the tower during its construction. It was also the first poem written in opposition to the tower.
Though it hasn’t appeared much in literature, the tower has made plenty of appearances on the big screen. The fourteenth installment of the James Bond series, A View to a Kill, features the Eiffel Tower. When James Bond and an informant dine in one of the tower’s restaurants, the villain’s bodyguard makes a rash decision resulting in an assassination and a dashing chase scene up the stairs. It turns out that even the most well-trained spies have difficulties climbing up all those steps!
The Eiffel Tower is also a main scenic view in Bioshock Infinite, a video game in which a young woman with powers wants nothing more than to escape to Paris and enjoy the quotidien lifestyle.
The Eiffel Tower has quite a large history--did you know that the tower was sold for scrap metal on two occasions? That is, by con artist Victor Lustig. Victor Lustig was a con artist on a completely different level. He spoke 5 languages fluently, had 47 aliases, and used dozens of fake passports. When he arrived in Paris, he wrote to the top and most influential members of the scrap metal industry, inviting them to a hotel for a meeting. There, he stated that “Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems [he] cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory,” and that the tower would be sold to the highest bidder. The money came pouring in. Lustig was finally caught in Pittsburg on September 28th, 1935. He was apprehended by the FBI and held court in November of the same year--he was convicted of hundreds of crimes. He was sent to Alcatraz Island, where he eventually caught pneumonia.
The tower was almost demolished in the midst of World War II. Adolf Hitler ordered the military governor of Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, to tear the monument down. Luckily, von Choltitz refused. And later, when Hitler himself visited Paris, the citizens cut the elevator cables so that if he wanted to see the magnificent view from the top, he’d have to climb the stairs--all 1,665 of them!
La Tour Eiffel’s numeric statistics are even more impressive. The elevators travel 103,000 km per year, which equals two and a half times the distance around the Earth. In the cold, the tower shrinks six inches, and when it’s windy, sways two to three inches--which Eiffel took into account when constructing this building.
Not only that, but every seven years the Eiffel Tower is repainted, requiring 60 tons of paint (as heavy as ten elephants). Currently it sports a bronzed tan, but has also worn red-brown, yellow-ochre, and chestnut brown paint. The paint also prevents the metal from oxidizing and turning green like the Statue of Liberty, of which Gustave Eiffel designed interior elements.
Today, La Tour Eiffel is one of the most viewed monuments in the world. Some even hail it as a modern day Tower of Babel, considering that approximately 7 million visitors a year regardless of age or origin come to view this magnificent structure! Even across the world, there are more than 30 replicas, most notably, Tokyo Tower and Las Vegas’ replica of the tower.
Additionally, under French law, it is illegal to distribute photos of The Eiffel Tower taken at night. Facebook and Instagram photos are safe though, so don’t worry--it’s only photos for financial use. 1985 was the year that Pierre Bideau installed the tower’s night display of lights, and European Union copyright law dictates that an artistic work is protected through the lifetime of its creator plus another 70 years. Though the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel owns the copyright, legally enforcing it is another matter. It would be quite difficult to sue the 7 million visitors per year, so they save their time by focusing on making sure that nighttime photographs aren’t distributed without their permission on magazines, packaging, or posters. Luckily, they’ve given permission to plenty of postcard companies, so don’t hesitate to send one to your friends and family back home!
To make sure that your visit to this iconic monument is an absolute pleasure, The Eiffel Tower hosts approximately 500 employees to man the elevators, security, ticket booths, restaurants, and more! So say merci to the locals next time you’re there and embrace the City of Lights and the monument that gave Paris its nickname.
“Eiffel Tower Key Stats : the Tower in Numbers.” La Tour Eiffel, www.toureiffel.paris/en/the-monument/key-figures.
Maysh, Jeff. “The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 9 Mar. 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/man-who-sold-eiffel-tower-twice-180958370/.
History.com Editors. “Eiffel Tower.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 June 2011, www.history.com/topics/landmarks/eiffel-tower.
Reiner, Luke. “27 Facts about The Eiffel Tower.” Factslides, FACTSlides, 3 Dec. 2019, www.factslides.com/s-Eiffel-Tower.
Smith, Oliver. “40 Fascinating Facts about the Eiffel Tower.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 4 Feb. 2016, www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/paris/articles/Eiffel-Tower-facts/.
Specktor, Brandon. “19 Mind-Blowing Eiffel Tower Facts You've Never Heard Before.” Reader's Digest, Reader's Digest, 28 June 2018, www.rd.com/culture/eiffel-tower-facts/.
“The Eiffel Tower in Literature.” Landmarks of the World, www.wonders-of-the-world.net/Eiffel-Tower/The-Eiffel-tower-in-literature.php.
Amy grew up in a small rural town in Washington and left home to study French and English literature at Southern Oregon University. This led her to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre to teach high school students English through the TAPIF program. From there, she travelled back to the states and received her Masters of Library and Information Science and Children’s Literature at Simmons University. In her spare time, she practices latte art and watches Danny Phantom.See All Amy's Posts