15 Monumental Facts About the Eiffel Tower

iStock.com/narvikk
iStock.com/narvikk

On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower opened to the public. Below are some things you might not know about the beloved monument.

1. The tower was built as an entrance arch for the 1889 World's Fair.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, Paris hosted the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle). Hoping to be considered for the high-profile project, artists from around the nation sent in plans for a structure to mark the entrance to the fair on the Champ-de-Mars, a public greenspace in the center of Paris.

2. It was designed and built by the firm Eiffel et Compagnie.

The commission was given to the consulting and construction firm owned by Gustave Eiffel, a bridge builder, architect, and metals expert. Eiffel also worked in the early 1880s on the Garabit Viaduct, a bridge in the Massif Central region that was, at the time, the highest bridge in the world. Prior to landing the World's Fair project, he also helped design the Statue of Liberty.

3. Gustave Eiffel rejected the initial design.

The tower's main designer was one of Eiffel’s employees, senior engineer Maurice Koechlin. Engineer Emile Nouguier and the head of the company’s architectural department, Stephen Sauvestre, were also consulted. After viewing Koechlin's initial sketches—which Eiffel felt were too minimalist—the architect instructed Koechlin to include more details and flourishes in his redesign. Eiffel approved the final design in 1884.

4. The project required lots of metal (and lots of manpower).

Three hundred steel workers spent two years, two months and five days, from 1887 to 1889, constructing the Tower. They used more than 18,000 individual metallic parts, 2.5 million rivets, and 40 tons of paint.

5. Its original height was 985 feet.

Getty Images

Upon its completion in March 1889, the Tower measured 300 meters (985 feet) high. Surprisingly, this measurement isn't static: Cold weather can shrink the Tower by up to six inches.

6. It was the tallest structure in the world until 1930.

For 41 years, the Eiffel Tower stood higher than any building or structure in the world—until it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in New York, which topped out at 1046 feet. Just a year later the Empire State Building became the tallest in the world at 1454 feet with the spire. In 1957 an antenna was added that increased the Tower’s height by 67 feet, making it 6 feet taller than the Chrysler Building.

7. A 300-member committee protested the tower.

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Led by author Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas, Jr., and hundreds of other artists and intellectuals, a petition opposing the project was signed and sent to the Parisian government. They called the Tower “useless and monstrous,” but their protests fell on deaf ears.

8. The tower was an immediate hit.

Despite the petition, the 1889 World’s Fair was deemed a great success, thanks largely to the Tower's imposing presence. Nearly 2 million people visited the Eiffel Tower during the Fair and spent $1.4 million on tickets, making the 1889 Fair one of the few to actually turn a profit.

9. It was only supposed to stand for 20 years.

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The Eiffel Tower was never intended to stand over the Champ-de-Mars permanently, and was scheduled to be dismantled in 1909—that is, until someone realized that its apex was the perfect place for a telegraphy antenna. During the First World War, at the Battle of Marnes in 1914, the wireless telegraph transmitter helped jam German communications.

10. It moves!

Eiffel, a renowned expert on aerodynamics, published “The Resistance of the Air” in 1913. He and his team designed the Tower to withstand even the strongest winds, and never sway more than 4.5 inches.

11. There are three levels.

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The 7 million people who visit the Eiffel Tower every year can now travel to three different sections of the Tower at three different heights. The first level is 189 feet high and includes an observation area, a reception room named after Gustave Eiffel, souvenir shops, an art show, a restaurant (58 Tour Eiffel) and a transparent floor. The second floor, at 379 feet, includes another observation area and Le Jules Verne restaurant. The top level offers amazing panoramic views at 905 feet high and a champagne bar, where you can grab a glass of white or rosé (just expect to pay up to $25 per glass).

12. Some weird events have taken place there.

The tower has drawn its share of daredevils (Pierre Labric, the future mayor of Montmartre, was arrested for cycling down its stairs in 1923) and overly-enthusiastic admirers. In 2007, a woman with an "objectum sexual" married the tower and changed her name to Erika La Tour Eiffel.

13. The tower gets a fresh paint of coat every seven years.

Getty Images

About 60 tons of paint are needed to freshen the monument, which is owned by the City of Paris and operated by a public utility called the Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE). More than 500 people work for the SETE, as tour guides, security, in the post office, and in the Tower’s restaurants, shops, and boutiques.

14. The tower was closed during the German occupation.

French resistance fighters cut the cables for the Eiffel Tower’s lifts so Nazi officers and soldiers had to climb the stairs, and the monument was closed to the public during the occupation from 1940 to 1944. Hitler actually ordered the military governor of Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy the Tower, along with the rest of the city; fortunately, his order wasn’t carried out.

15. The iconic structure is beloved by filmmakers.

EON Productions/MGM

James Bond chased an assassin through the Tower in A View to a Kill. A murder-mystery called The Man on the Eiffel Tower was released in 1949 and starred future Penguin Burgess Meredith. A scene from The Lavender Hill Mob, which featured future Oscar winners Alec Guinness and Audrey Hepburn, was filmed there. Hundreds of other films have used the Tower as a prop, or a backdrop.

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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The Trailblazing Story of Alexandrine Tinné, the Victorian Explorer Who Attempted to Cross the Sahara Desert

Alexandrine Tinné was an avid explorer.
Alexandrine Tinné was an avid explorer.
Haags Historisch Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A well-chaperoned Grand Tour of Europe offered wealthy Victorian women a way to safely admire civilization’s wonders, but such travel held little interest for Dutch heiress Alexine Tinné. Having studied books on geography, archaeology, and botany at the Royal Library in the Hague, Tinné longed to explore uncharted regions. Her travels would bring her along the White Nile and later, deep within the Sahara Desert.

An Escape From Victorian Life

Alexandrine Tinné, circa 1855–1860.Robert Jefferson Bingham, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the mid-19th century, exploration was considered a gentleman’s pursuit. The Royal Geographic Society had never financed an expedition led by a woman (and wouldn't until 1904). But Tinné didn't need anyone to authorize or fund her trip, having inherited a fortune when she was 9 years old after the death of her father, Philip Frederik Tinné, a wealthy Anglo-Dutch sugar merchant and shipbuilder [PDF]. She could afford to travel in luxury with her mother, Baroness Henriette van Capellen, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Sophie of Württemberg. When Tinné was 19, she and her mother traveled Europe and Scandinavia before heading to Egypt to enjoy pleasure cruises on the Nile.

According to Mylinka Kilgore Cardona, a history professor at Texas A&M University who is reworking her dissertation The Six Lives Of Alexine Tinné [PDF] into a book, Tinné’s travels offered a chance to escape the narrow confines of Victorian life. “She got to be her authentic self when she was outside of Europe,” Cardona tells Mental Floss. “She got rid of the corsetry and the crinolines and dressed like a local, albeit a wealthy local. Had she gone back to Europe she would have most likely been forced back into those expectations and highly encouraged to marry.”

Eventful Expeditions

Tinné was so intrigued by Africa, she launched an 1863 expedition to what is now Sudan to discover the source of the Nile, something European explorers had sought since Roman times. Ornithologist Theodor von Heugelin and botanist Hermann Steudner joined Tinné’s 1863 expedition, which required a flotilla of boats to ferry her entourage of soldiers, maids, porters, and clerks, as well as the required camels and donkeys. Tinné’s five dogs, carried in panniers by porters, also accompanied the group.

Though she didn't find the source of the Nile, her adventures were still fruitful. Tinné documented her travels along the region’s waterways and settlements, compiling photographs and drawings now housed in museums. The plants she collected and pressed became the basis for Plantae Tinneanae, a book on the botany of Bahr el-Ghazal, and her letters, sent home by dispatch, described experiences that included traders promising to proclaim her Queen of the Sudan and receiving a marriage proposal from a sultan. 

To a niece, Tinné wrote of her intention to travel beyond Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan. “When you look at the map you will see there is at the SouthWest of the Equator, a large space empty of names, it’s there we want to go to.”

Accounts of her travels not only thrilled newspaper readers of the day, but also were presented at The Royal Geographic Society. Yet some critics called Tinné a dilettante and claimed women were ill-suited to risky endeavors. “Exploration was this very macho masculine thing in the 19th century,” Cardona says. “To be out exploring and facing your fears. Then you have this 20-something-year-old woman doing it. How manly can it be if she is doing it too?”

Troubled Travels

Alexandrine Tinné's travels were far from solitary.Die Gartenlaube, 1869, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tinné’s excursions were far from a leisurely holiday. Her entourage grew as she traveled, straining their resources. When food supplies ran low, her soldiers threatened to mutiny. In self-taught Arabic, the heiress persuaded them to continue, but she soon had to reverse course: While in Bahr el Ghazal, several members of her expedition became severely ill. Tinné and von Heugelin survived, but her mother, Steudner, and two maids died.

Tinné returned to Khartoum, where Adriana van Cappellen, an aunt who had previously left the expedition, had remained. Only weeks after Tinné arrived in Khartoum, Van Cappellen died unexpectedly. Despite suffering yet another devastating loss, the young explorer chose not to return to the Hague. “And now you will probably ask yourself what I am going to do,” she wrote to her niece. “And I don’t think you will be very astonished when I tell you I am going to stay in the East.”

For the next four years, Tinné lived in Alexandria, Tunis, and Tripoli, sailing the Mediterranean, but still longing to explore uncharted regions. In late 1868, she launched another expedition, aiming to be the first European woman to cross the Sahara. It would be her last.

The expedition began in Tripoli, but ended before ever leaving the country. In August 1869, at the age of 33, Tinné was killed during a fight between her camel drivers and guides while traveling between Murzuq and Ghat [PDF]. She knew the dangers inherent in exploration, at one point expressing her preference for an interesting life: “If you hear today or tomorrow that I have been sent to the other world, then don’t think my last moments were lived in bitterness.”