Paris is one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world. And nothing epitomizes that beauty and sophistication more than the Eiffel Tower. Gustave Eiffel, the engineering mastermind behind her construction himself once famously said “I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am.”
Even today, she welcomes over 7 million visitors from all over the world who come to take in her beauty and grandeur, and in this piece, I thought I would share 15 of my favorite details about her, many of which, might surprise you.
- She was only slated to stand for 20 years – Originally built for the World’s Fair in 1889, She was built by Gustave Eiffel and his team of engineers to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the French Revolution. The French Government at the time held a contest amongst artists and engineers and Eiffel’s design was chosen because it was the most unique design, and he offered to finance her construction. Who would say no if they didn’t have to lose a centime, am I right? The beauty in this plot point is that the government offered to help Gustave recoup his losses by allowing him to charge admission to visit the interior of the Tower, thinking to themselves, who on Earth would pay to come visit this metal monstrosity? Flash forward almost a century and a half later, and she is the most visited monument in the world, with thousands of people climbing those stairs, cruising up those elevators, and touring her everyday. As to why she wasn’t torn down 20 years later, her popularity yes, but Gustave Eiffel being a genius man of science, added an antenna that became integral to the French military… but more on that in point 8.
2. She’s made of Iron – Now this one you probably would have guessed being that her nickname is “The Iron Lady” but what’s interesting is why. The major monuments and points of interests in Paris all have one thing in common: they are made of stone. Except for The iron Lady herself. The reason being that at the time of her construction, iron had just hit the scene as the new building material of the future. And the cheeky Gustave Eiffel designed her lattice framework because he wanted to prove that you can construct something substantial from iron, that is just as strong as stone, while being lighter.
- Gustave Eiffel has an apartment at the top – ….And he never once complained about the 108 stories walk up. He had an apartment built at the top for visiting dignitaries and the scientific elite. And maybe in part to make other Parisians jealous, because you really can’t beat that view…
- They hold an elite race up the Eiffel Tower steps every year – Known as the Eiffel Tower Vertical, this timed race is a true sporting challenge. Ever year, a group of about 120 runners from all over the world, compete for the top three spot in a race up the 1,665 steps to the summit of the Eiffel Tower. The current record holders are Piotr Lobodzinski from Poland clocking in at 7:56:67 for the men, and Suzy Walsham from Australia, clocking in at 10:02:70. Talk about some serious bragging rights!
5. She was integral during World War I – The first signals were sent from the Eiffel in 1898! Eugène Ducretet successfully sent these first radio signals to the Pantheon. He took that to the French military authorities in 1901 with a plan to make the Tower into a long-distance radio antenna. Thank goodness for that, because during WWI, The antennae was able to intercept German transmissions, and during the Battle of the Marne in 1914, signals would be sent out from the top of the tower, directing the French troops on the front lines. The transmitter tower is still in use today for FM radio and cable broadcasts for the entire city! Here’s an sweet tidbit for you: Eiffel lived long enough to hear the first European public radio broadcast from the Tower in 1921.
- She used to be a redhead – Today, she is painted a lovely shade of brown, a custom color known as “Eiffel Tower Brown” but when she originally opened to the public in 1889 she was painted red! A decade later, she tried her hand at being blond as she was painted a lovely shade of yellow, until finally, she was painted brown. In order to keep her looking young, (and to prevent rust) she gets a fresh coat of paint every 7 years. It takes 60 tons of paint and 2 years to finish the project, and I guess you could just say of her many different shades, that she just got bored with the same old, same old.
- Everyone hated her… at first – In fact, there were literally petitions drafted by Paris’ top artists to have her dismantled. Their earnest pleas were ignored of course because she was so immensely popular after her completion. Guy de Maupassant, even famously ate lunch underneath her everyday and said of his “iron arch nemesis,”that he was forced to do that everyday because “inside the restaurant was one of the few places where I could sit and not actually see the Tower!”
- She is the tallest monument in Paris – Standing at 324 meters tall, she remains the tallest monument in Paris. She was the tallest monument in the world until the completion of The Chrysler building in 1930.
- She was almost sold, twice! – in 1925, a conman man by the name of Victor Lustig devised a scheme to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. And it almost worked not once, but twice. At the time, the Eiffel tower was starting to rust and was in need of some expensive repair, so Lustig, in all of his mischievous glory, posed as the Deputy Director General of the Ministere de poste et Telegraphes and held a meeting with various scrap metal dealers to sell her to the highest bidders, under the pretense that “The upkeep of this treasured monument was simply becoming tootroublesome for the French Government.” The men paid him, and were overjoyed at the prospect of all the money they would soon be raking in themselves, (we’re talking 7,300 tons of iron after all) until they realized they had been duped!By that time, Lustig had already disappeared into the night with their cash. Fast forward though, when he emerged from his hiding spot in Vienna where he lived a very lavish existence for four years until the money ran out, and he tried to carry out the same hair brained scheme again! Only this time he was caught, and in a sweet, karmic turn of events, he was punished to the full extent of the law.
- She was almost a bridge – In her original design, Gustave Eiffel had hoped to make her into a bridge. Eiffel was well adept at constructing bridges, being that his most notable project at that time was the Bordeaux Bridge. The complication with this concept however, was that to span the banks of The Seine river, the riverbed had to be strong enough to hold her weight, and unfortunatly, or luckily enough for us who get to climb inside of the tower everyday, it wasn’t.
- She used to be a giant billboard – From 1925 – 1936, the automobile company, Citroen advertised their cars on the three sides of the tower. Could you imagine seeing this everywhere you looked in the city? Because that’s exactly what would have been the case, the advertisement was so bright in fact, that it was visible from nearly 32 kilometres (20 miles) away. Charles Lindbergh even used this light as a beacon when he landed in Paris on his first solo transatlantic flight in 1927. Although an effective tool for brand awareness, Citroen was the first and last company to advertise on the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully.
- Her glorious light show! – If you haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower at night yet, that has to be added to the top of your list! After dark, she puts on an incredible show: she lights up for five minutes. It’s breathtaking. This gorgeous light show was a surprise addition to the fireworks celebration on New Year Eve, 2000. To usher in the new Millenium, The Eiffel Tower Association decided to add something extra special for everyone watching that night. As Midnight came rolling in, there was a sudden display of twinkling, dancing lights: the Iron Lady was dancing! And the French who have a bit of a reputation for being slightly hard to impress, were floored, in fact, they loved this mesmerizing light display so much, they begged the Association to keep it, and that they did. You can enjoy the illuminating lights for yourself every hour, on the hour after dark. Here’s what’s more, this is such a special display, that it’s copyrighted! It is illegal to post photos or videos of the light display for personal or business use. All the more reason to come see it for yourself, in person. It is absolute worth it.