Gustave Eiffel’s chief engineers Emile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin initially conceived the idea for the world’s tallest tower in 1884. They speculated that it was possible to create a vertical structure using the same principles employed in railway bridge construction. They hypothesised that two bridges could stand upright and lean against one another, for no other reason than to prove it was possible. At its inception the tower was a daydream: a flight of imaginary engineering.
In 1887 the 300m tall cast iron tower was commissioned as the centrepiece for the Paris Exposition Universelle or World’s Fair of 1889, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. A medieval fortress and prison, symbolic of royal authority, the Bastille was attacked and seized in 1789 during the formative stages of the French Revolution. When the idea became a reality therefore, its significance was akin to a war memorial.
The French constructor Gustave Eiffel had already fabricated numerous impressive structures, including viaducts and portable bridges. The tower was intended to showcase the advanced technological and mechanical feats made possible by the Industrial Revolution. The monument had absolutely no function beyond that of flaunting the Eiffel Company’s consummate skill in the field of structural metalwork. The manufacture and installation of the Eiffel Tower was an extravagant concrete exercise in showing off.
The controversy surrounding the proposed tower was considerable. In 1887 the newspaper Le Temps published the “Protest against the Tower of Monsieur Eiffel”, signed by influential members of the literary and artistic community.
We come, we writers, painters, sculptors, architects, lovers of the beauty of Paris which was until now intact, to protest with all our strength and all our indignation, in the name of the underestimated taste of the French, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the erection in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower, which popular ill-feeling, so often an arbiter of good sense and justice, has already christened the Tower of Babel.
Given the weight of public objection, and the fact that it was only supposed to have a 20year lifespan, Eiffel knew that he needed to develop clear functional capabilities in the long term for the tower to survive. He proposed that the tower be used for the advancement of scientific study, and used his structure to conduct experiments and observations in the fields of meteorology, astronomy, physics, telecommunications, electronics and aerodynamics.
However, it was the tower’s role as a huge antenna for wireless broadcasting that eventually saved it from demolition. In 1899 the first wireless transmitter was installed, and in 1903 Eiffel financed the first military experiments into transmission and reception, which successfully spanned over 400km. In 1910 the potential strategic advantages offered by the tower’s telecommunication equipment saved it from destruction, and this potential was soon to be proven. During the First World War its radiotelegraphic station jammed German radio communications, which contributed to the Allied success during the First Battle of the Marne. Enemy telegrams were deciphered and – it is claimed – spies such as Mata Hari were uncovered.
Throughout the 20th Century the Eiffel Tower has contributed extensively to the development of European telecommunications, first with the advent of civilian radio programming, and then moving on to broadcast satellite television channels. Advances in television technology have even increased the height of the tower, with an Ultra High Frequency antenna extending the structure to its present height of 324m.
The scientific experiments initiated by Gustave Eiffel as a means to explore his own interests and to preserve ‘his’ tower, are extending its role well into the 21st Century. It seems fitting that such a structure, designed to showcase the marvels of industrial engineering, should continue to be associated with magnificent acts of technological showing-off.
(original post from: http://cargocollective.com/DWFE/Monstrous-and-Useless, accessed today; picture from an subscribed newsletter of My Little Paris)