Contruction of the Eiffel Tower
Construction process prints
Tour Eiffel, Paris
Excerpt from Origins and Construction of the Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel, Paris:
[L-R: 15 mars 1888, 15 septembre 1888, 26 decembre 1888, 12 mars 1889]
It was at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, the date that marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, that a great competition was launched in the Journal Officiel.
The wager was to "study the possibility of erecting an iron tower on the Champ-de-Mars with a square base, 125 metres across and 300 metres tall". Selected from among 107 projects, it was that of Gustave Eiffel, an entrepreneur, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, both engineers, and Stephen Sauvestre, an architect, that was accepted.
The first digging work started on the 28th January 1887. On the 31st March 1889, the Tower had been finished in record time – 2 years, 2 months and 5 days – and was established as a veritable technical feat.
The assembly of the supports began on July 1, 1887 and was completed twenty-two months later.
All the elements were prepared in Eiffel’s factory located at Levallois-Perret on the outskirts of Paris. Each of the 18,000 pieces used to construct the Tower were specifically designed and calculated, traced out to an accuracy of a tenth of a millimetre and then put together forming new pieces around five metres each. A team of constructors, who had worked on the great metal viaduct projects, were responsible for the 150 to 300 workers on site assembling this gigantic erector set.
All the metal pieces of the tower are held together by rivets, a well-refined method of construction at the time the Tower was constructed.
First the pieces were assembled in the factory using bolts, later to be replaced one by one with thermally assembled rivets, which contracted during cooling thus ensuring a very tight fit. A team of four men was needed for each rivet assembled: one to heat it up, another to hold it in place, a third to shape the head and a fourth to beat it with a sledgehammer. Only a third of the 2,500,000 rivets used in the construction of the Tower were inserted directly on site.
The uprights rest on concrete foundations installed a few metres below ground-level on top of a layer of compacted gravel.
Each corner edge rests on its own supporting block, applying to it a pressure of 3 to 4 kilograms per square centimetre, and each block is joined to the others by walls. On the Seine side of the construction, the builders used watertight metal caissons and injected compressed air, so that they were able to work below the level of the water.
The tower was assembled using wooden scaffolding and small steam cranes mounted onto the tower itself.
The assembly of the first level was achieved by the use of twelve temporary wooden scaffolds, 30 metres high, and four larger scaffolds of 40 metres each.
"Sand boxes" and hydraulic jacks - replaced after use by permanent wedges - allowed the metal girders to be positioned to an accuracy of one millimetre.
On December 7, 1887, the joining of the major girders up to the first level was completed. The pieces were hauled up by steam cranes, which themselves climbed up the Tower as they went along using the runners to be used for the Towers lifts.
It only took five months to build the foundations and twenty-one to finish assembling the metal pieces of the Tower.
Considering the rudimentary means available at that period, this could be considered record speed. The assembly of the Tower was a marvel of precision, as all chroniclers of the period agree. The construction work began in January 1887 and was finished on March 31, 1889. On the narrow platform at the top, Eiffel received his decoration from the Legion of Honour.
Journalist Emile Goudeau describes the spectacle visiting the construction site at the beginning of 1889.
"A thick cloud of tar and coal smoke seized the throat, and we were deafened by the din of metal screaming beneath the hammer. Over there they were still working on the bolts: workmen with their iron bludgeons, perched on a ledge just a few centimetres wide, took turns at striking the bolts (these in fact were the rivets). One could have taken them for blacksmiths contentedly beating out a rhythm on an anvil in some village forge, except that these smiths were not striking up and down vertically, but horizontally, and as with each blow came a shower of sparks, these black figures, appearing larger than life against the background of the open sky, looked as if they were reaping lightning bolts in the clouds."
Gustave Eiffel: Biography on Art in Context
Gustave Eiffel: Related Links on Art in Context
Gustave Eiffel and the Statue of Liberty: Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi on Art in Context
Gustave Eiffel, French, (1832-1923)
b. December 15, 1832, Dijon
Art in Context - Projects:
Art in Context - Art for the Day: December 15