Why was the Eiffel Tower Built?
The Eiffel Tower–one of the most iconic and memorable locations right in the heart of a romantic Paris–but why does it even exist at all?
When I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t really know too much about it other than what it looks like and where it is. I wondered why the Eiffel tower was even built to begin with. Compared to the rest of Paris, it actually seems quite different when you really look past its current fame and really think more deeply about it. This is where I set out myself.
I started with the question of why the Eiffel Tower was built and went from there. So, come with me on a journey to the city of love (Paris), in the country of love (France) and discover why this magnificent monument was built (spoiler alert: it was built for a fair–not an affair).
Why was the Eiffel Tower built?
I was hoping for some crazy reason for the building of the tremendous tower. Perhaps it was a gift of love, much like the Taj Mahal. Could it be that it was designed and constructed by accident? Maybe it appeared overnight, and no one knew where it came from. Alas, my research took me straight down a different path completely. In short, the Eiffel Tower was built to commemorate the French Revolution and serve as an impressive entryway for the 1889 World Fair. Stay with me as I delve, briefly, into both.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution was a period of upheaval in France where Mary Antoinette declared “Let them eat cake,” although it is almost certain that she did not say this, let alone anyone else. What is sure, is that during this time in France, baguettes and brioche were hard to come by for the common person.
The French Revolution lasted from 1789 to 1799 and overthrew the French monarchy, establishing a republic in its place. The culmination was a dictatorship under Napoleon who was nice enough to share some of these ideals with some of Europe (of course, he had to conquer them first). The reason for the revolution was mainly down to the unfair distribution of wealth. The rich were not taxed while the poor were heavily taxed.
The World Fair
We partly know the why of the Eiffel Tower. In part, it was built to commemorate the French Revolution, but would it have been built if it were not for the World Fair?
The World Fair (also referred to as the World Expo) is an international exhibition designed to showcase the achievements of a nation. The World Fair moves around the world from city to city and celebrates the country in which it is held. World fairs actually originated in France, and later migrated to Britain and the rest of continental Europe, eventually becoming a worldwide event.
The first world fairs (from 1851-1938) were mostly concerned with industrialization. The displays were focused on trade, technology, and science. From 1939-1987, the original focus of the World Fair moved from industrialization to culture. They were named things like, “Building the world of tomorrow” and “Peace through understanding.” From 1988 onwards, countries have started to use the Word Fair to improve their image across the world.
The 1889 World Fair
Paris was hosting the World Fair in 1889 and wanted something truly spectacular. Remember, we are still in the industrialization age, so what could be better than to put on display something which could showcase France’s technology and industry? A challenge was put forward. A space was reserved for the structure, and the design was open to architects and designers; over 100 applied. The structure was to be the gateway to the World Fair. This needed to be something incredible (and if you have been following along, you know that it was).
The winning bid came from Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (I think that you can guess where this is going). The construction of the giant tower commenced in July of 1887. I should note here, that while Eiffel’s name will forever be on the tower, there is some debate as to how much of the plans were his and how much was done by his assistant. That is not important to the why, but it still interests me.
Iron was a popular material to use in construction, especially during the industrial revolution. Wrought iron was to be used. Up until that point, wrought iron was only used as internal support. This was a radically new idea for the time. The biggest problem they faced was how to make a structure from wrought iron without making it look ugly (do I need a spoiler alert here? I guess you have probably seen the finished product).
The Eiffel Tower changed the way that this material was used in construction, creating a tower which was new and modern, and it looked good too.
Then disaster struck!
Okay, not quite, but I wanted to inject some thrills and romance into the story. When construction began, a group petitioned the Paris Exposition and pleaded for them to stop construction on what they deemed a ‘ridiculous tower.’ This group of 300 was made up of artists, sculptors, writers, and architects. I wonder what the same group of people think about that petition today?
Thankfully, the pleas fell on deaf ears, and the construction was continued. Disaster was un-stuck. It took two years to construct the Eiffel Tower, with construction finishing on March 31, 1889.
Quite a Project
It took almost two years to build the Eiffel Tower, and 18,000 pieces were used. Each piece was handmade in Eiffel’s factory in Paris. This was a project unlike any other. Each piece had to be precisely calculated, or the project would just not work. Two-and-a-half million rivets were used to connect those pieces together, each one hand tightened, to fasten 7,300 tons of iron. 60 tons of paint was needed to paint the tower, and it has been repainted 18 times so far. When the tower was built, it was the tallest building in the world for 40 years.
When it was built, the Eiffel Tower stood as a monument to French power and the French Revolution. It also provided a gateway to the 1889 World Fair.
As the tower grew, the excitement for the World For did too. You could not help but become excited as the tall tower grew on the Parisian landscape. Workers toiled through the night before the fair so that the tower was safe enough for people to climb up it. The reception was fantastic. The people who attended the World Fair that year were able to witness the tallest building in the world. They were able to gaze upon a structure composed of wrought iron which possessed a beauty which was unimaginable. It was unlike anything which had been seen before.
What goes up, must come down: why they planned to bring down the Eiffel Tower
It may seem crazy, but the Eiffel Tower was designed and created to be a temporary structure (that is not even the craziest part). What is really crazy is that in 1909, the French government almost tore down the now beloved structure. Only 20 years after being built, and with some French citizens calling the structure an eyesore and a blight on the skyline of the city, the French government started plans to deconstruct the Eiffel tower.
What was the reason not to tear down the tower? The French government decided that it had strategic value as the site for a radio antenna. Can you believe that? Can you believe that that is the reason the Eiffel tower is still standing today? Who knows if they would have gone through with it, but come on!
40 years after completion of the Eiffel Tower, the Chrysler Building in America became the tallest building in the world. In response, the French government got its wish for its radio antenna (and perhaps to beat the Americans), and the Eiffel Tower became the tallest building in the world again, beating the Chrysler Building by 17 feet. A year later (perhaps a response from the Americans?) the Empire State Building was erected, and the tallest building was no longer the Eiffel Tower.
There was a further threat to the Eiffel Tower in the form of the Nazis, with Hitler ordering them to tear down the tower, but much like their eventual outcome in the war, the Eiffel Tower defeated them. No one is quite sure why they never tore it down, but speculation suggests that the German troops could not bring themselves to destroy something so majestic.
A National Treasure
The tower was built to showcase French power and pride and has become a symbol of France. The majestic tower is one of the finest landmarks in the world. I am sure that the French are happy they did not tear their own tower down. The tower was also built as a symbol of the French Revolution, though I am sure that that reason has been lost to history. It was also built as a gateway to the 1889 World Fair, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who knew that.
There were many reasons to build the Eiffel Tower, but they all seem to have been lost to history. What has endured is the tower itself. It may have been divisive when it was built, but the people of France (and the world) have certainly come around.