In 1889 France hosted a World Fair to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. In preparation for this, designs were submitted by around 100 designers, artists and engineers for an entranceway for the exhibition that was to constructed in the centre of Paris. The winning design was that of Eiffel et Compagnie, owned by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who had collaborated on the Statue of Liberty. Controversy surrounded the design from the outset however, with it being described as ‘a belfry skeleton’ amongst other derogatory things by Parisian artisans and satirists and the general public. Not only did many consider it an eyesore, but there were doubts about its structural stability. As work began, Charles Alphand, Commissioner for the Exposition and the Minister for the Works was petitioned by the ‘Committee of Three Hundred’ (A member for each metre of the tower’s height) led by Charles Garnier, a prominent architect in ‘Le Temps’ newspaper. They wrote:
“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”
One of those on the committee, Guy de Maupassant, a notable writer based in Paris is said to have eaten lunch every day at the restaurant of the tower as it was the only place where it would not be visible to him.
Construction began in 1887. Although Eiffel is generally credited with the design, it was a collaboration with one of his employees – Maurice Koechlin, a structural engineer, with whom Eiffel had worked with on the Statue of Liberty. The tower was completed by the end of March 1889, in readiness for the opening of the World Fair on the 6th May. Eiffel hosted a dedication ceremony which took place on 31st March attended by construction workers, the French Prime Minister Pierre Tirarde, and other dignitaries.
Originally only intended to last for twenty years, the tower formed the gateway to the exhibition. It stands 324 metres (1,063 feet) high, and consists of an ironwork framework supported on four masonry piers, placed at the four points of the compass. There are a total of 1,665 steps to reach the top of the tower, but the general public are only able to access the top of the tower above the first level via lifts. The tower remained the tallest man made structure until 1930 when the Chrysler building was completed in New York.
The initial plan to demolish the tower after the 20 year life expectancy was abandoned when it’s scientific importance became apparent. The tower was used for a number of scientific experiments and as a radio transmitter. During more recent years there have been changes to the structure to accommodate the estimated seven million annual visitors to the tower, which has become an iconic symbol of France throughout the world.