Standing 300 metres high, weighing 10,000 tons and pieced together by over 18,000 wrought iron sections and 2.5 million rivets, the Eiffel Tower was the towering piece-de-resistance of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris and would be, for 41 years, the world’s tallest human-made building.
Over the last 125 years, the Eiffel Tower has had a fascinating history – here are just five of the more memorable moments…
LONG WAY UP
On the day the Eiffel Tower opened on 31 March 1889, its designer and chief engineer Gustav Eiffel led a group of distinguished guests and officials to the top of the 300-metre structure. Unfortunately, the lifts had not yet been fully installed so they had to walk up the 1,710 steps, which took over an hour.
Not everyone was excited to see the finished tower. A guild of 300 artists, writers and intellectuals published their criticisms of the design. They described it as “useless and monstrous… a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack”.
Originally intended as a temporary structure, the Eiffel Tower was going to be demolished after 20 years. But in 1909, the decision was made to keep the tower, as it had become a useful radio antenna. This proved to be a life-saving choice – during the Battle of the Marne in World War I, the tower was used to send vital orders to French troops while its transmitters successfully jammed German communications.
PASS THE PARIS
The Eiffel Tower was a strategic player during World War II as well. Before the Germans overran Paris, the French cut the lift cables to hinder Nazi plans to use the tower as a propaganda tool. As the Allies drove the Germans back out of Paris in 1944, placing it back under French control, Hitler ordered the tower be demolished but the military Governor of Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, refused to obey.
Over the years, the Eiffel Tower has attracted some weird and wonderful personalities, including con artist Victor Lustig who, in the 1920s, managed to ‘sell’ the tower for scrap metal not once, but twice. Another name forevermore attached to the tower is inventor and tailor Franz Reichelt. In 1912, he tested his homemade parachute by jumping off the first deck – around 57 metres off the ground – but it failed to open properly and he plummeted to his death.