A Model for Essay #1 (Summer 2007)

"How the The Eiffel Tower Works and How It Became a Monument, Symbol of Paris"

by Anne-Marie Cressin

June 24, 2007
Dr. Ellen Moody
Paper #1

It is strange that the Eiffel Tower has become the universal symbol of Paris. Everywhere on the globe where Paris is stated as an image, you can find the Eiffel Tower. For people from the United-States to Asia, Africa to Australia, and even within Europe itself, there is almost no journey made to Paris without, at the very least, the hope to take a peek at the Eiffel Tower. Furthermore, its size, simple and primary shape appeals to our imagination: it can be in turn the symbol of Paris, of modernity, of communication, of hard-work and diligent labor, of science, engineering, and technical advancement during the nineteenth century, rocket, stem, derrick, phallus, lightning rod, insect, artistic display of lights, lighthouse [1] The openness, purity, virtual emptiness, uniformity can mean anything, and is given an oneiric function. An expression of utopia. The Tower of Babel. An elevator to the sky. A link between Earth and Heaven.

None of this fantasy was the initial purpose of the tower. Its constructor, Gustave Eiffel, viewed it as a serious, rational object, with scientific and useful purposes. The aesthetic (or unaesthetic, for some) shape of his design was based on wind resistance. The Tower has been standing on Parisian soil for over a century now, and as it saw Paris evolving throughout time, so did its inhabitants saw the Tower evolving in their hearts and memories. It was not meant to be a monument, but because of its long history, architecture, it has nowadays acquired a unique status.

The Eiffel Tower is located in the 16th district of Paris, an upper-class bourgeois area located in the southeast of the capital. It is surrounded by green space, called the Champs de Mars (Field of Mars). The Tower was originally designed as the gateway to the Worlds Fair (Exposition Universelle) of 1889 in Paris. The revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity were still slowly settling into daily life. In that fin de siecle, industrialization and modernization were making traumatizing, drastic changes on society. It caused personal stress and alienation. Could technology really contribute to personal happiness? Many could already enjoy electricity, prefabricated furniture, readymade clothing. Nevertheless, old economic bonds were destroyed, work habits were irreversibly changed. It seemed clever to the government to show that it was possible to exercise control over technological change [2]. The celebration of the centennial of the Revolution with another triumph arch would appease and serve the grand design of creating a new Republican society, literally in the midst of social and economic changes, that had grown out of the Revolution itself. It was to serve as a symbol of the movement toward liberal democracy, based on science and technology

Since the French had a good occasion to show off their technical knowledge and experience, a contest was organized between different engineers or group of engineers, to compete for the best project. 107 submissions were made, but the project of what we know now as the Eiffel Tower won.

The construction lasted 2 years and the inauguration was made in March 1889. The Eiffel Tower is made of puddled iron, with a slightly increased content of carbon compare to wrought iron. It provides a higher tensile strength. It is painted every seven years, to protect it from rust, with different shades of brown that the tourists can pick themselves by answering polls when they visit the monument. Building something so tall was something that engineers all over the globe were attempting to do since decades. It was the highest building until 1930, when the Chrysler Building in New York was achieved.

The Eiffel Tower is 325 m (1063 ft) tall; the ground is 33 m above sea level. Each pillar is oriented in the four cardinal directions. The foundations are very deep and made of reinforced concrete. Two of the pillars go deeper than the Seine, which runs very close on the northeastern side of the pillars. Enormous bolts (7.6m long) keeps the pillars to their foundations. Nowadays, the tickets sales are in the North and East pillars, elevators are in the West and East pillars, and stairs are in the East pillar. The South pillar has an elevator reserved to staff and customers of the restaurant Jules Verne, located on the second floor [4]. The first floor is located 57 m from the ground. There are a circular gallery that allows visitor to have a 360o view, with orientation tables and telescopes. 72 great scientists have their names engraved there in recognition of their contributions. The restaurant Altitude 95 and an observatory of the third floor oscillations under wind and thermal expansion are located on the first floor as well. The second floor is located 115m above the ground. It is from that floor that the view is said to be the best. It is estimated that people can see as far as 60 km from that floor. On the third floor the view is less visible. The restaurant Jules Verne is a gastronomic restaurant that is located on the second floor, with a subdued lightning and a famous panoramic view. The third flood is located 275 m from the ground. It is only accessible from an elevator, whereas the first and second floors are accessible from both stairs and elevators. It hosts 116 antennas that provide radio transmission to millions of households, cars, etc [4]

The exponential shape is developed from calculations that Gustave Eiffel made to optimize wind resistance. He used a nonlinear integral-differential equation whose solutions yielded the true shape of the Eiffel Tower. Wind pressure is counterbalanced by tension between the elements of the tower itself on each horizontal plane [5].

Since its construction in 1889, the Eiffel Tower encountered mixed reactions. People protested against it even before its assembly started. A group of artists published a letter of protest in a newspaper, saying that the Eiffel Tower was like a scar on the face of Paris (the same thing was said of the Louvres Pyramide decades later). They said it was not artistic, and was humiliating all other monuments by its pompous height.

The Tower had been built with its deconstruction in mind. The government allowed and funded its construction; with the condition that Gustave Eiffel would obtain full responsibility and rights on it for 20 years, after what it should be taken down. Gustave was not only a bright engineer but also a true visionary: he worked just as hard to give the Tower multiple scientific uses as he did to win the initial contest. It was used as a meteorological station, a transmission tower for radio communications. It was actually the Eiffel Tower that contributed to the massive use of radio in France. The French also deciphered German radio transmissions during World War I. They identified a spy that turned out to be a popular exotic dancer of the Parisian night scene: the Mata Hari lady. She was executed soon after. The Tower was also used during as a rendez-vous point for taxis going to the front in the horrible battle of La Marne.

After the 20 years, the term of the contract ending, the Parisian had somehow gotten used to the Eiffel Tower, and Eiffels foresight had revealed itself quite good. The government decided that the Eiffel Tower could be useful and will not be deconstructed. Besides, the number of visitors increased when international tourism expanded in the 1960s. Nowadays, the Tower is reproduced in puzzles, toys, key chains. There are replicas in Las Vegas (165 m), Shenzen, China (100 m); Kings Island, Ohio (100 m); Kings Dominion, Virginia (84 m), Sloboza, Romania (54 m), etc It has hosted numbers of musical events, appears in multiple novels and movies about Paris It changes its lightning every couple of years, however for special events it has special lightnings or fireworks, and puts on a real show. Again, it encountered controversy in 2004, when it lightened up in red, in the occasion of the Chinese president visit in Paris. People were astonished to see that the Tower had taken communist colors, to honor a country where human rights were not respected.

I went back to France, after years of living abroad, last winter with an American friend. The first thing he wanted to see from Paris was the Eiffel Tower. The perspective of waiting in line for hours to go up an ugly brownish structure, in the company of hundreds of tourists, did not appeal to me, at all. My friend lost its interest in the Eiffel Tower when seeing the look on my face. To me, the Tower was a synonym of Paris for tourists only, and looked nothing like the rest of the capital. Instead, for the first couple of days, we ended up strolling around Saint-Michel where Notre-Dame is located, and also around Montmartre, and other places that I have always enjoyed. We had seen the Eiffel Tower all along (it is hard to miss it, as it tops the Parisian landscape). By chance, one day, we ended up around the Champ de Mars, and we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. So close, it was merely breathtaking. I had forgotten how tall, so tall it was. I had forgotten how the structure was beyond doubt beautiful, majestic, how the different iron pieces were so elegantly placed, and looked so sturdy at the same time. How the ironwork was often twisted, very detailed. I had forgotten how the layout of the Champ de Mars and all the neighboring monuments made the incredible height even more impressive. I had forgotten how much engineering, calculations, must have been involved in the completion of such a stunning structure.

Later on, as my friend and I continued our visit of Paris, we grasped that actually some other parts of Paris were very much like the Eiffel Tower, such as museums, bridges and more specifically, the Grand Palais, a large glass exhibition hall, product of intense ironwork and artistic intuition. The utopia of the government officials of 1889 who wanted to build a tower, that would be symbol of the movement toward liberal democracy, has not happened. Other parts of Paris live in poverty and need, and there are thousand of homeless persons everywhere. As beautiful as some parts of Paris can be, there are parts that should simply never be shown. Immigrants live in terrible conditions and often have little hope to improve their lives. Discrimination is rare, but still present. Education takes away hope from youngsters, instead of encouraging them. Women, young people and minorities are still struggling. France is actually one of the worst countries of Europe in the matter of equal opportunities.

The example of the Eiffel Tower can, still today, be an inspiration to all. In a city where most changes are welcome with a mix of fear, anger and relief, where there are almost daily protests at nearly all political changes, we can hope that the French will continue to accept change, and strive for progress... even when it is not immediately obvious or too different.

  1. Barthes, Roland, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. (University of California Press, March 1997).
  2. Levin, Miriam, Republican art and ideology in late nineteenth-century France. (UMI Research Press, 1986).
  3. Levin, Miriam, When the Eiffel Tower Was New : French Visions of Progress At the Centennial of the Revolution. (University of Massachusetts Press, 1989).
  4. Wikipedia, The Eiffel Tower.
  5. Weidman, and Pinelli. Model equations for the Eiffel Tower profile: Historical perspective and new results. (Comptes Rendus en Mecanique, 2002).

Addendum: A Revised Proposal
Essay #1

Instructions: Write about how a machine or scientific process works, or about the composition of an object which has been designed and built (or created by people).

Object chosen: the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Strategy: I thought writing about the Eiffel Tower would help me to know it better, and after I did some research, I realized that there was certainly a lot to say about it. .

Why chosen: You commented in the essay proposal that there were other monuments worth being mentioned in Paris, and you also asked if it was actually the tallest structure of Paris.

There are definitely other monuments in Paris that deserved just as much attention as the Eiffel Tower, or probably even more. However, I chose the Eiffel Tower in Paris because its appearance contrasts with the rest of Paris, and also because its construction involves somehow more recent knowledge (better understood) than the construction of some other monuments, such as cathedrals. Actually, up to this day, the architecture of cathedrals is still not perfectly understood.

Also, the Eiffel tower is the highest building of Paris (325 m); the second tallest structure is the Tour Montparnasse (210 m).

I do realize that it can seem very clich to choose the Eiffel Tower since I am from France. However, I chose it as an object for this essay, because when I read the essay you posted on your website, about the Golden Gate, I was impressed by its quality. It made me realize that there were plenty of tall, beautiful metal structures that I never took time to really enjoy and know better. Starting from a famous one, right where I grew up: the Eiffel Tower.

What is not a clich, but more of common knowledge, is that Parisians actually take the Eiffel Tower for granted. Parisians do not think much of it, because unlike the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, it is not loaded with glamorous classical history and ornaments, but instead is more about boring mechanical engineering and math. Also, the Eiffel Tower is such a touristy attraction, with very few and expensive stores and restaurants surrounding it, that consequently not many French people would think about strolling around there on week-ends. And when they take foreign friends or relatives to the Eiffel Tower, they usually have somewhat lame things to say, because they are not well informed about it.

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Page Last Updated: 6 August 2007.