Eiffel Tower designed by Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923). 1889. Paris. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The engineer Gustave Eiffel, who was born in Dijon and designed this structure for the World Fair of 1889, was the butt of some ridicule for embarking on such an undertaking. A contemporary pamphlet, prepared just before the tower's completion, edited by "Fritz" and published in London, defended him staunchly. In the first place, it pointed out the scale of the project:

The height of this great wonder of the 19th century will when complete, be nearly 1,000 feet. When our readers bear in mind that St. Paul's Cathedral is only 404 feet high, the enormous difference is apparent.... The entire structure is built of iron, the total weight of which is some 7,531 tons — say 15,062,000 pounds. Over 2,500,000 rivets will be required to put this gigantic structure together. (7)

However, "Fritz" also makes clear some of the objections to it:

The natural question will arise what is to be the use of this Tower. Without entering into the scientific value to which this Tower may lead, and the many scientific uses it may hereafter be put to, we take it that first and foremost it will be one of, if not, the greatest feature of the Universal Exhibition opening on the 5th of May next. Secondly, it is undoubtedly a commercial enterprise, and we are bound to confess we see no reason why so much mud should have been thrown at M. Eiffel by part of the press, even if it turns out to have no further value. Assuredly, M. Eiffel, and those with him, have as much right to invest their money in the success of the Eiffel Tower as in any other commercial undertaking.

It is calculated that about 25,000 persons can ascend per day, and taking the average cost per head to be 3fr. we have here alone a gross revenue of about 75,000 francs per day — away and apart from this there are many other minor sources of revenue, so that allowing for all sorts of contingencies, some millions of francs may be netted by the spirited undertaker of this work, ere yet the Paris Exhibition is a thing of the past. Why call a man mad and a fool, who has sufficient pluck and ingenuity to attempt something never before attempted. We should rather blame, if blame be called for, the morbid taste of the present generation, the ever increasing craving for something new, startling and sensational. The supply follows the demand, and always will. (7-8)

Base of the Eiffel Tower

The photograph above shows the base structure of the tower. It was taken on one of those occasions when the tower is decorated to mark a specific event, in this case France's presidency of the European Union in 2008.

There is no doubt now that the tower was an incredibly bold and ingenious piece of engineering work for its time: Baedeker's Paris guide points out that "[i]ts method of construction distributes the total weight of 7500 tonnes in such a way that the pressure it exerts on the ground is only 4 kg per sq. cm (60 lb per sq. in), the equivalent of an average-sized adult on the seat of a chair" (113). It may not have had the practical uses that some contemporaries envisaged — for meteorological and astronomical studies, or "optical telegraphy" ("Fritz" 36); but it still serves as the most instantly recognisable symbol of Paris today. It has also spawned some offspring, such as the Sapporo and Tokyo Towers in Japan, and other freestanding iron structures like the Canton Tower in China and (most recently) Anish Kapoor's ArcelorMittal Orbit for the London Olympics of 2012. "Fritrz" rightly foresaw that "the craving for something new, startling and sensational" would only increase with the years.

Photograph top right by George Landow. Photographs top left, and below (2012 and 2008) and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


"Fritz," ed. . London: F. C. Hagan &: Co., 1889. Internet Archive. Web. 14 October 2012.

Kottman, Manfred. Baedeker's Paris. English Language ed. Norwich: Jarrold & Sons, 1987.

Last modified 23 October 2012