The Eiffel Tower: a "truly tragic street lamp"


When the Eiffel Tower was first built, it was the tallest building in the world. At 986 feet, it was almost twice as tall as the previous tallest building, the Washington Monument. It wasn't until 1930 that the Chrysler Building in New York surpassed the Eiffel Tower in height.

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The tower was built as the keystone of the Universal Exposition in Paris celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution in 1889. Engineering contractor Gustave Eiffel designed it to be something different from anything that had ever been built. Besides building bridges, Eiffel had also designed the interior structure of the Statue of Liberty. He later worked on a Panama Canal design for a project that was later scrapped.

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More than 100 designs were submitted for the tower design in 1886, and Eiffel's design was chosen unanimously. Rejected designs included a lighthouse, a sprinkling water tower, and a huge guillotine! Many people were shocked by the Eiffel design's daring shape. It was called a "truly tragic street lamp", a "mast of iron gymnasium apparatus", and "a hole-riddled suppository". They didn't know the engineering behind the very different design. The open metalwork allowed the tower to withstand winds, and the curved supports supported a taller structure than any before possible.

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The saga of the tower continues after the jump.

People doubted the tower could be finished in two years. After all, the Washington Monument took 36 years to build! But Eiffel used premanufactured wrought iron parts he designed and measured down to the millimeter, and creeper cranes that attached to the tower itself. Eiffel even had a restaurant built on the first level of the tower, so his workers wouldn't waste time climbing down to the ground for lunch!

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The tower was completed on time and under budget, despite lawsuits, union strikes, and one construction death. The Grand Opening was June 10, 1889. Two million people visited the tower during the six-month Exposition. It was one of the earliest big buildings with a public elevator. So many people paid to ride the elevators that the building earned back almost its entire budget in one year! Eiffel establish a weather station in the tower right after it opened. In 1898, it grew to 1,052 feet with the addition of radio antennas at the top.

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The very different design of the tower made it an engineering marvel. Wind can pass through the metal trusses. The top only sways 6 to 7 centimeters in the wind, much less than other tall buildings. But the building will bend in the sun! When the weather is right, sunshine on one side of the tower causes the wrought iron to expand, so the structure will bend up to 18 centimeters at the top. As the sun moves, the tower straightens back to normal.

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Over 200 million people have visited the Eiffel Tower. On a clear day, you can see 42 miles in each direction from the top. For all these reasons, the Eiffel Tower should be one of the new seven wonders of the world.

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