Its the Eiffel Tower’s 130th anniversary! On this day in history 130 years ago the Eiffel Tower was opened for the first time with Eiffel himself leading politicians and Government officials to the top, a walk taking over an hour. The occasion marked the completion of the main structure. The winning entry in a competition to build a 300 metre tall tower, La Tour Eiffel was built for the 1889 Exposition to celebrate the French revolution – and it was a time for festival and joyful celebration in Paris. The structure itself was built in a record two years, something almost unparalleled since.
The Eiffel Tower’s official 130th Anniversary picture. Source: Official Eiffel Tower
The official opening itself took place on 6th May 1889 but there were no lifts in operation for the first few weeks and over 30,000 visitors had to climb the many hundreds of stairs instead! Most made it to the top despite the great height at which the structure had been built.
To climb the Eiffel Tower at the time meant being well prepared and take a meal along as par for the course! Source: Flickr.
Eiffel – the man and his associates
The tower is of course named after Alexander Gustave Eiffel. It was he who won the competition for a 300 metre tower to be built for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and it was through his determination that the tower be built. It was an enormous undertaking and of course nobody had attempted such a structure on this scale before.
Eiffel showed that heights could be conquered by way of the ingenious use of iron (and later steel.) Iron framed buildings were nothing new at the time of the Eiffel Tower however the construction of the tower largely paved the way forward for the many skyscrapers of the 20th Century.
The man himself in full colour! Engineer Gustave Eiffel who was responsible for constructing the famous tower. Coloured by Marina Amaral. Source: Twitter
A lot of people just associate Alexander Gustave Eiffel with the tower itself, however he was a very reputable engineer who built many other structures around the world including bridges and railway stations. His other notable achievements include the Statue of Liberty’s steelwork and the Panama Canal’s locks.
Although Eiffel is often described as an engineer which he was, he was perhaps more of an entrepreneur and it was others who devised and created the plans for Eiffel’s projects. He had the knowledge, the money, the architects, the factories and the workmen needed to build the many projects in his name.
The following item written in the Times of India in June 1889, gives credence to Eiffel for the idea but also reveals what many do not really know – the tower wasn’t an original idea nor was it really Eiffel’s to begin with – and not only that Gustave wasn’t interested in the project either to begin with….
‘Much has been said about the origin of the modern Tower of Babel in the Champ-de-Mars, and the idea of its construction has been claimed for several persons. It will go down to prosperity, however, as Eiffel’s Tower, just as America was called after Amerigo-Vespucci instead of Columbus. It is well-known that M. Eiffel – eminent engineer though he be-is no more originator of the Tower than the Man on the Moon, but he took up the idea, had it elaborated, used his influence to popularise it, and finally superintended the colossal work until the idea and the plan became the wonderful reality which people of all nations are flocking to see.’
Source: The Times of India 21 June 1998.
Clearly there were others besides Eiffel himself without whom the tower would have never been built. This is Édouard Lockroy, the Chief Commissioner of the 1889 World’s Fair and the guy who authorised the building of the Eiffel Tower. He had previously been France’s Minister of Commerce and Industry and his lifetime’s ambition was a devotion to Liberty and Equality. This is how the 1889 exhibition came to be seen as the anniversary of the French revolution, and in Lockroy’s view the tower was therefore a symbol of that momentous time.
Édouard Lockroy, chairman of the Exposition Universelle 1889. Source: Twitter.
The agreement for the building of the Eiffel Tower. Lockroy’s name is prominent at the top. Source: Was from Twitter – tweet now deleted.
An English translation of a later version of the above treaty. Source: Was from Twitter – tweet now deleted.
The tower would have been returned to the City of Paris in 1910 and the land disposed of, but as it was extremely popular and generated huge amounts of money the City’s fathers ultimately thought it quite unwise to pull it down.
Stephen Sauvestre. Source: Wikipedia
Another important person in the story of Eiffel’s tower was Charles Léon Stephen Sauvestre. He was the architect responsible for the design of the tower however he was employed by Eiffel, thus Eiffel ultimately owned the designs for the new tower.
Émile Nouguier. Source: Wikipedia
Before we move on let’s see how the idea for the tower was actually conceived and the means by which Sauvestre and the others got involved in the design process. As the Times of India reveals, it was all to do with Émile Nouguier…
‘In November, 1880, M. Sébillot, a French electrical engineer, conceived the idea of lighting Paris by electricity from one focus placed on a tower 300 metres high, the structure to stand in the Louvre courtyard or in the Place du Carrousel. In his report M. Sébillot pointed out that… steel and iron would render the construction possible. M. Sébillot took M. Bourdais – architect of the Trocadero – into his confidence, and they both worked at the plan of the proposed tower.‘
‘In 1883, however, another civil engineer, Mr Nouguier, studied the project minus the electric lighting propositions, and mooted it to Mr. Alexander Eiffel… M. Eiffel did not take kindly to the project at first, but on second thoughts he commissioned M. Nougier, M. Koechlin, and M. Sauvestre to draw up a definite plan, which he adopted and carried out with energy and determination, despite immense opposition and even ill-will.‘
Source: The Times of India 21 June 1998.
As can be seen, it was Nouguier who set the wheels in motion and Eiffel who, despite his early hesitancy, brought the entire project to fruition. Nouguier worked together with Koechlin in 1884 to draw up the initial plans for the new tower and from that point on the whole story properly begins. Sauvestre of course came up with the final designs.
This is one of Sauvestre’s early designs. Obviously the idea was the smaller outer towers would facilitate the lifts needed to reach the second stage. Eventually Eiffel decided the lifts should go up the tower’s legs instead and this pair of lift towers were dispensed with. Source: Twitter.
One of the designs by Koechlin, Nouguier and Sauvestre, drawn in 1884 for Eiffel’s ‘Commemorative Monument Project.’ Source: Twitter.
Eiffel (centre) with his architects on the first floor of the new tower. Sauvestre is at far left. Koechlin is stood between Sauvestre and Eiffel whilst Nouguier is to Eiffel’s right hand side. The guy at far right is Adolphe Salles, one of the tower’s construction managers. Source: Twitter.
The Eiffel Tower is built
Plans for the Eiffel Tower, showing the details of the different stages. Source: Twitter.
The foundations are dug. January 1887. Source: Twitter.
Another view of the foundations and its workers. Source: Twitter.
The foundations take shape 1887. Source: Rare Historical Photos.
At the time the tower was being built, many Parisians were against it. There were protests and petitions were initiated in any and every attempt to stop the tower’s construction. Even famous artists and celebrities were totally opposed to the idea of a 300 metre tall tower dwarfing the French city.
Artists against the Eiffel Tower – a petition published on 14th February 1887. Source: Twitter.
‘In an interview in the newspaper Le Temps of February 14 1887, Eiffel gave a reply to the artists’ protest, neatly summing up his artistic doctrine:
For my part I believe that the Tower will possess its own beauty. Are we to believe that because one is an engineer, one is not preoccupied by beauty in one’s constructions, or that one does not seek to create elegance as well as solidity and durability? Is it not true that the very conditions which give strength also conform to the hidden rules of harmony? (…) Now to what phenomenon did I have to give primary concern in designing the Tower? It was wind resistance.
Well then! I hold that the curvature of the monument’s four outer edges, which is as mathematical calculation dictated it should be (…) will give a great impression of strength and beauty, for it will reveal to the eyes of the observer the boldness of the design as a whole. Likewise the many empty spaces built into the very elements of construction will clearly display the constant concern not to submit any unnecessary surfaces to the violent action of hurricanes, which could threaten the stability of the edifice. Moreover there is an attraction in the colossal, and a singular delight to which ordinary theories of art are scarcely applicable.‘
Source: Official Tour Eiffel Website
The various sections for the tower are manufactured in Eiffel’s factory at Levallois-Perret near Paris. Source: Twitter.
The west pillar (Pilier Ouest) as it rises from the foundations. 1st July 1887. Source: Twitter.
The tower begins to rise. Source: Twitter.
View of the structure as it rises. Source: Twitter.
December 7th 1887. The girders to the first floor are finished. Source: Twitter.
The first floor was completed on 1st April 1888. The tower’s 300 workers were then instructed to begin the next stage. There were no lifts the workers had to climb ladders! Source: Twitter.
The tower rises – 14 June to 14 November 1888. Source: Twitter.
The tower rises – 26 December 1888, 20 January 1889, 12 February and 12 March 1889. Source: Twitter.
The tower from the Trocadero gardens July 1888. Source: Twitter.
The second floor was finished on the 14th August 1888. The next stage to be completed would be that to the third floor, at over 900ft or 276 metres.
A specially colourised photo to show the dramatic appearance it gave with its reddish-brown colour. Again this is July 1888. Source: Twitter.
A contemporary observer of the time commented on the colours of the tower: “The colour of the iron is all reddish brown, which doesn’t seem to be a very happy selection, but at least the structure is not ugly and does in time grow to be very impressive.” (Source: New York Times 9 June 1889.)
Gustave Eiffel (lower left) and an associate at the top of the tower 1889. Source: Twitter. (Note: Account has been suspended thus an archived image is used.)
A slightly different pose! Source: Twitter.
This open air aspect of the very top of the tower was short lived. It was soon seen as space for things like transmitters, radio aerials and scientific equipment and since 1900 it has been an extremely important element of the tower’s daily functions which has since the fifties included TV transmissions too.
And a group shot! Source: Twitter. (Note: Account has been suspended thus an archived image is used.)
During 1900 Eiffel himself built an observation deck at the very spot these photographs were taken. It was known as his ‘secret room’ and pictures of this are shown later. I do not know how long the observation room lasted, probably until the 1950s when TV transmissions became the tower’s main public function.
The official opening party at the top of the tower unfurling the French flag 31 March 1889. Source: Twitter.
Here’s a nicer picture of that momentous event (its from an old book on the tower in my collection) showing the unfurling of what was in fact a very large Republique Francais flag.
The New York Times report on the tower’s commemorative ceremony 31 March 1889. Source: Twitter.
The Eiffel Tower featured on the posters for the launch of the Exposition on 1st May 1889. Source: Architizer.
Although the Tower was part of the Exposition, it wasn’t quite ready and thus couldn’t actually be used until 6th May 1889, when it was first opened to the public. A number of special medallions were made….
Official medallion to commemorate the public opening of the tower 6 May 1889. Source: Twitter.
Although it is often said people were allowed to climb the tower from May 6th onward despite the lifts not working, a report from the New York Times (see quote below) suggests otherwise and shows quite possibly that ascent on foot was allowed to the first stage only but no further.
I can quite believe this as the stairs from the first stage upwards were not exactly suited to large crowds (see later in the post) whereas those on the ground to the first stage were. On the other hand it may well be that special guests or dignitaries in limited numbers were allowed to proceed to the very top under supervision and this had caused some confusion to exactly how much of the tower was actually opened to the public on 6th May 1889.
The Eiffel Tower itself is at first sight something of a disappointment. The design has been so long familiar ot every eye, by means of drawings, models and photographs, that the element of surprise is wholly lacking, and it takes time and a kind of process of reasoning and analogies to lay hold of its genuine magnitude. I day say that people who ascend it, even to the first platform, have no difficulty in realising how huge the thing truly is, but the lifts are not working yet, and since the opening day no one is permitted to undertake the ascent by foot.
Source: New York Times 9 June 1889.
The Eiffel Tower on 6th May 1889, the day of the official opening. Source: Twitter.
The lifts opened a couple of weeks later. What did they look like?
One of the lifts for the tower. This is clearly one of the two belonging to Otis. The operator’s cabin can be seen as a small lean-to cabin on the lower section of the lift. Source: Picclick. (Image has been replaced by a different one thus an archive of the original is used.)
I think the scene above may depict the day in question, this was 29th May 1889, where it was ordered the lift be raised to a certain level using ropes and then these cut to see how the equipment dealt with a catastrophic failure. Otis elevators chose this dramatic experiment to assure the French public their lifts were absolutely safe.
‘The lift, which consists of two compartments, one above the other, weights 11,000 kilogrammes, and loaded with 300 kilogrammes of lead – that is to say, weighing 14,000 kilogrammes – was raised to a considerable height. There it was fastened with ordinary ropes, and this done , it was detached from the cables of steel wire with which it is worked.
What was to be done was to cut the rope and allow the lift to fall, so as to ascertain whether, if the steel cables were to give way, the brakes would work properly and support the lift. There were 25 or 30 persons present. After waiting two hours we were told that the experiment was going to be made.
Two carpenters, armed with great hatchets, had ascended to the lift and were ready to cut the cables on a signal to be given by Mr Brown (Otis’ engineer.) There was great anxiety. M. Eiffel asked Mr Brown if he was alarmed, to which the latter replied with American coolness, “Only two things can happen.”
Then turning to the carpenters, Mr Brown said, “One, two three.” A blow cut the rope. The enormous machine began to fall. Everyone was startled, but in its downward course the lift began to move more slowly. It swayed for a moment from left to right, stuck on the brake, and stopped.
There was general cheering. Not a pane of glass in the lift had been broken or cracked. A powerful arm seemed to have caught the lift in its descent, and to have stopped it, without a shock, at a height of ten metres above the ground.‘
Source: The Scotsman 31 May 1889.
It has been said the lifts opened on the 26th May, however I think this may have been for the French built Roux lift which only went as far as the first stage. The experiment on the 29th May showed the Otis elevators (for reaching both the first and second stages of the tower) had not been put into public service, so its possible they entered service just after that experiment had been conducted.
The Roux, Combaluzier & Lepape elevator which was the first to go into service on 26th May 1889. Source: Flickr.
On the present Pilier Du Nord lift one can see the effigy of a guy on the lower part of the lift. Yes this was really the case I remember in the sixties these guys were there and they were responsible for the operation of the lifts. It was quite strange but also fascinating to watch and I suppose for most of us when we were small kids in those days, we often went to Paris, it was something quite curious actually but nevertheless made the visit to the tower even more enjoyable.
But to recap, why did they have a man in the lifts’ nether regions operating what looked like a steering wheel? It was actually a means of ensuring the elevator’s cars stayed upright at all times as the lifts changed from an angle of 54 degrees to a final angle of 80 degrees which is almost vertical by the way. In fact the lower section is exactly straight as a ruler however the upper section, despite being at an obvious angle to the lower section and seemingly straight too, in fact becomes steeper the further up it goes.
The lift operator! Source: Paris Daily Photo.
The lift operator used to be adjacent to the passenger cabins, however they were soon removed as they interfered with the flow of passengers and placed upon a specially built platform on the lower part of the lifts. Thus the effigy is simply a means of showing how the lifts used to be operated.
Nowdays the elevators themselves automatically compensate the differences in angle and keep the passengers on an even keel and the lift operators remain inside the cabins at all times and its all push button technology now.
The lifts original mechanisms remain in place and are still used. There is modern electronics and other equipment used to power and maintain the hydraulics, however the system as it was originally built in the Pillar Ouest remains. This is the Fives-Lille system from 1900, built to replace the Roux. It was renovated and refurbished in 2015, the requirements being the historic mechanism must be retained and operable. The company that did the job said it was honoured to do this work. Its engineers said some of the hydraulics posed a bit of a mystery as to how it all worked, but nevertheless it did.
If one wants to see how the mechanism works then I can do no less than recommend this You Tube video of the Fives-Lille elevator mechanism, built in 1900.
Nice 1889 view of the tower with the fountains and the Trocadero in the distance. Its actually a very good picture because the original and simple arrangement at the summit can clearly be seen. Source: Twitter.