On March 31, 2009, the Eiffel Tower's inauguration completed 120 years. The event was the highlight of the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle -- when the centenary of the French Revolution was celebrated. Along the XIX century, the universal expositions were the main advertising vehicle of the Occidental industrialized society, the shopwindows for the advanced technology where each country showed their most recent products. To the French people, it was also a special date and, with their traditional delusion of grandeur, they were keen to make the whole world repair on them. As a starting point, these things could justify the construction of the iron giant in the middle of the heart of Paris -- but the things weren't that simple...
Gustave Eiffel was, at that time, a well succeeding builder. He had important works all around the world: bridges and viaducts in France, several railway bridges in Portugal and Spain, the structure which supported the Statue of Liberty, in New York, the Panama channel flood-gates and the less known portable bridges which cross many rivers until our days, particularly in South America. The reputation and the solid financial of the company were highly decisive on choosing his project for the Exposition Universelle. The most curious things is that Eiffel wasn't interested on the idea since the beginning.
The idea was lifting up a more-than-1000-feet-high construction, analogous to something about 300 meters -- an enterprise at the size of the French national pride. But the principal technicians of the company needed to elaborate the first viability analysis to make Eiffel perceive that he finally could become the author of the highest building of the world. It's fair to know that the tower project own to him as much as to the engineers Emile Nougier and Maurice Koechlin and to the architect Stephen Sauvestre, names frequently forgotten by the History.
Hereafter, the hardest task wouldn't be the technique, but the politics: it's about convincing the authorities. He used all the company reputation and promoted a wide campaign to convince the Parisian administration about the advantages that such work could bring. After a lot of insistence and many financial investments, he reached his aim and saw the French flag raised 300 meter high -- but the problems had just started.
A movement of art and culture personalities was soon raised, claiming the pure demolition of the tower, a thing they considered an attack to the good taste. And they failed, as the taxes charged to the tower visitants resulted on huge amounts of money that the municipality wasn't willing to abdicate. Later, when the 20 years concession of the plot had finished, the critic figured out a new opportunity to demand its demolition. And Eiffel used again his influence and persuasion and convinced the authorities that Paris had a great need for a communication tower, for a meteorological cabinet and for a aerodynamic studies' school. Then, he could keep his work standing still.
Gustave Eiffel (on the left) with Adolphe Salles at the spiral staircase which links the highest platform to the tower peak
But don't think that these arguments came from no reasons. Eiffel was open-minded. He dedicated himself to the winds study and even published many works about aerodynamics which brought important contributions to this incipient science then. He conceived an airplane and a wind tunnel where the French prototypes were testified during many years. A project for a tunnel over the English Channel, from 1890, is a less known work.
It's an irony that Eiffel passed the following years without projecting, as he had always done, but avoiding the breakdown of his tower. Paris and the world won a magnificent tower, that's right, but who knows the many others fantastic constructions that the unique person was able to conceive and lift up? He died on 1923, when he was 89 years old.
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