1889 marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution so the city of Paris wanted to celebrate. The Parisians didn’t just have a parade with some balloons and trumpets, though, they threw a gigantic festival that the entire world was invited to. It was called the Exposition Universelle, or the World’s Fair.
A few years before the fair was held, there was a competition to construct a monument in the heart of Paris to serve as the entrance to the exposition. Out of 107 submissions, the project was granted to Eiffel et Compagnie, the consulting and construction firm of none other than Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Contrary to popular belief, Eiffel did not come up with the design for the Eiffel Tower. It was actually a group effort by him and his employees. Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier designed and made improvements upon the structure which was then approved by Eiffel.
When the tower was first built, Parisians did not have nice things to say about it. In fact, they had no problem expressing their distain for the “monstrous” tower and hideous architecture. But the attendees of the World’s Fair thought differently. Millions of people came to marvel at the skyscraper. Standing at almost 1,000 feet high, it was the tallest structure in the world. Yet, the success of the monument was not enough to keep it around.
From the start, the Eiffel Tower was only supposed to be a temporary exhibit for the World’s Fair. After 20 years, the contract was up and it was almost torn down to be used for scrap metal in 1909. Unable to see his work of art demolished, Eiffel proved that the structure could be useful by adding an antenna to the top of the tower. He knew that experiments with wireless telegraphy were performed successfully at this time and took advantage of the tower’s height. His plan worked! With the addition of the antenna, the structure became valued as a radiotelegraph station. Not only did the tower become functional, it soon became an essential part of the French military. During World War I, the Eiffel Tower was used for sending and receiving radio communications, alerts, and emergency dispatches. In short, the invention of the radio saved the Eiffel Tower! But not for long…
The Eiffel Tower was almost torn down a second time during World War II. In 1944 during the German occupation of Paris, Hitler ordered the city’s most iconic structure and the city itself to be demolished, but the order was disobeyed by the military governor of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, and the demolition was never carried out. Thus, the Eiffel Tower was saved a second time. Civil disobedience at its finest!
History is full of bizarre contingencies and this is a perfect example. Ironically, the most hated and seemingly useless structure in Paris became the city’s most iconic monument. Having been to the Eiffel Tower, I can say that it is absolutely breathtaking. I can’t think of a better representation of Paris than a structure symbolizing honor, beauty, and triumph.