Today marks the 125th Anniversary of the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. To commemorate the occasion, Jill Jonnes, author of the marvelously entertaining book about the building of the Eiffel Tower, Eiffel’s Tower, has written this post about her two favorite 19th century Eiffel Tower moments.
All of elite Paris sent up a howl when rich railroad bridge engineer Gustave Eiffel actually began erecting what was to be the tallest structure in the world. Eiffel had won the competition to erect a 900-foot-tall tower as the fabulous centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle.
In a still-famous letter published in Le Temps, forty-seven of the nation’s cultural heavyweights compared the Tower (only its foundation had yet been completed but everyone had seen the drawings) to a “black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing [all] beneath its barbarous mass…When foreigners visit our Exposition they will cry out in astonishment, ‘Is it this horror that the French have created to give us an idea of their vaunted taste?’” To drive home the utter hideousness of “this odious column of bolted metal,” these cultural lions declared in their letter, “even commercial America would not have” this “Eiffel Tower.”
In truth, Americans were deeply jealous and unhappy, for an Old World nation was about to take the technological lead: Eiffel’s Tower would displace the 550-foot-tall Washington Monument as the world’s tallest building.
Deliciously, by the time the Eiffel Tower was finished, Gustave and his creation were world famous and all those snooty Parisian painters and writers had fallen in love with it, and could think of no better place to see and be seen than its fashionable first-platform bistros. Except for Guy de Maupassant, who never came round.