The committee, set up to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution in 1889, announced a contest to design and build a monument to the revolution. After a six-week competition, Gustave Eiffel’s design was announced as the winner. When plans were first unveiled based on Eiffel’s concept, the design was severely criticized by intellectuals and artists, calling the design a disgraceful skeleton . . . “a gigantic factory chimney whose form will disfigure the architectural harmony of the city.”
The Eiffel Tower rose at a rate of almost two feet per day, an astounding fact considering 18,038 pieces of iron were fitted together with 2.5 million rivets by more than 100 workmen who functioned almost like acrobats and stuntmen. Not one man lost his life during the construction. On March 31, 1889, just days after the final piece of the tower was put in place, Eiffel proudly led a number of government officials and journalists at the 980-foot-high upper level and unfurled the French flag to a 25-gun salute commemorating the completion of the tallest structure in the world at the time. When the tower opened to the public in May, 1889, it was an instant success. Eiffel was able to reimburse his creditors within one year, just through the admission ticket receipts from the 1,868,000 visitors. The “Iron Lady” — the tallest manmade object on the planet for more than four decades — has had more than 250 million visitors since.
Twenty years later, however, the lease for the land expired, and Eiffel lost control of his tower to the City of Paris. The land was too valuable for such a frivolous structure, according to city council, and plans were made to turn the tower into scrap metal. Fortunately for the Eiffel Tower, the First World War came along, and the tower was transformed into a military radio and telegraph centre. Its lease was renewed for another 70 years, and the tourists continued to flock to the structure. While the Germans occupied Paris during World War II, legend has it Adolf Hitler refused to make the climb to the top, leaving some to say he “conquered France, but the Eiffel Tower conquered him.” With the Allies approaching in August 1944, Der Fuhrer ordered the landmark destroyed in order to damage French morale but General Dietrich von Choltitz — thankfully — ignored the Nazi leader.