From the Annals of the World History
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel
(15 December 1832 – 27 December 1923)
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was a French civil engineer and architect. A graduate of the prestigious École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures of France, he made his name with various bridges for the French railway network, most famously the Garabit viaduct. He is best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, and his contribution to building the Statue of Liberty in New York. After his retirement from engineering, Eiffel concentrated his energy on research into meteorology and aerodynamics, making important contributions in both fields.


Early life
Gustave Eiffel was born in France, in the Côte-d'Or, the first child of Catherine-Mélanie (née Moneuse) and Alexandre Bonickhausen dit Eiffel. He was a descendant of Jean-René Bönickhausen, who had emigrated from the German town of Marmagen and settled in Paris at the beginning of the 18th century. The family adopted the name Eiffel as a reference to the Eifel mountains in the region from which they had come. Although the family always used the name Eiffel, Gustave's name was registered at birth as Bonickhausen dit Eiffel, and was not formally changed to Eiffel until 1880.

At the time of Gustave's birth his father, an ex-soldier, was working as an administrator for the French Army; but shortly after his birth his mother expanded a charcoal business she had inherited from her parents to include a coal-distribution business, and soon afterwards his father gave up his job to assist her. Due to his mother's business commitments, Gustave spent his childhood living with his grandmother, but nevertheless remained close to his mother, who was to remain an influential figure until her death in 1878. The business was successful enough for Catherine Eiffel to sell it in 1843 and retire on the proceeds.

Eiffel was not a studious child, and thought his classes at the Lycée Royal in Dijon boring and a waste of time, although in his last two years, influenced by his teachers for history and literature, he began to study seriously, and he gained his baccalaureate in humanities and science. An important part in his education was played by his uncle, Jean-Baptiste Mollerat, who had invented a process for distilling vinegar and had a large chemical works near Dijon, and one of his uncle's friends, the chemist Michel Perret. Both men spent a lot of time with the young Eiffel, teaching him about everything from chemistry and mining to theology and philosophy.

Eiffel went on to attend the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris, to prepare for the difficult entrance exams set by engineering colleges in France, and qualified for entry to two of the most prestigious schools – École polytechnique and École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures – and ultimately entered the latter. During his second year he chose to specialize in chemistry, and graduated ranking at 13th place out of 80 candidates in 1855. This was the year that Paris hosted the second World's Fair, and Eiffel was bought a season ticket by his mother.


Early Career
After graduation, Eiffel had hoped to find work in his uncle's workshop in Dijon, but a family dispute made this impossible. After a few months working as an unpaid assistant to his brother-in-law, who managed a foundry, Eiffel approached the railway engineer Charles Nepveu, who gave Eiffel his first paid job as his private secretary. However, shortly afterwards Nepveu's company went bankrupt, but Nepveu found Eiffel a job bridge design, a 22 m (72 ft) sheet iron bridge for the Saint Germaine railway. Some of Nepveu's businesses were then acquired by the Compagnie Belge de Matériels de Chemin de Fer: Nepveu was appointed the managing director of the two factories in Paris, and offered Eiffel a job as head of the research department.

In 1857 Nepveu negotiated a contract to build a railway bridge over the river Garonne at Bordeaux, connecting the Paris-Bordeaux line to the lines running to Sète and Bayonne, which involved the construction of a 500 m (1,600 ft) iron girder bridge supported by six pairs of masonry piers on the river bed. These were constructed with the aid of compressed air caissons and hydraulic rams, both innovative techniques at the time. Eiffel was initially given the responsibility of assembling the metalwork and eventually took over the management of the entire project from Nepveu, who resigned in March 1860.

Following the completion of the project on schedule Eiffel was appointed as the principal engineer of the Compagnie Belge. His work had also gained the attention of several people who were later to give him work, including Stanislas de la Roche Toulay, who had prepared the design for the metalwork of the Bordeaux bridge, Jean Baptiste Krantz and Wilhelm Nordling. Further promotion within the company followed, but the business began to decline, and in 1865 Eiffel, seeing no future there, resigned and set up as an independent consulting engineer. He was already working independently on the construction of two railway stations, at Toulouse and Agen, and in 1866 he was given a contract to oversee the construction of 33 locomotives for the Egyptian government, a profitable but undemanding job in the course of which he visited Egypt, where he visited the Suez Canal which was being constructed by Ferdinand de Lesseps. At the same time he was employed by Jean-Baptiste Kranz to assist him in the design of the exhibition hall for the Exposition Universelle which was to be held in 1867. Eiffel's principal job was to draw up the arch girders of the Galerie des Machines. In order to carry out this work, Eiffel and Henri Treca, the director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, conducted valuable research on the structural properties of cast iron, definitively establishing the modulus of elasticity applicable to compound castings.


Statue of Liberty
In 1881 Eiffel was contacted by Auguste Bartholdi who was in need of an engineer to help him to realise the Statue of Liberty. Some work had already been carried out by Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc, but he had died in 1879. Eiffel was selected because of his experience with wind stresses. Eiffel devised a structure consisting of a four legged pylon to support the copper sheeting which made up the body of the statue. The entire statue was erected at the Eiffel works in Paris before being dismantled and shipped to the United States.

In 1886 Eiffel also designed the dome for the Astronomical Observatory in Nice. This was the most important building in a complex designed by Charles Garnier, later among the most prominent critics of the Tower. The dome, with a diameter of 22.4 metres (73 ft), was the largest in the world when built and used an ingenious bearing device: rather than running on wheels or rollers, it was supported by a ring-shaped hollow girder floating in a circular trough containing a solution of magnesium chloride in water. This had been patented by Eiffel in 1881.

The Eiffel Tower
The design of the Eiffel Tower was originated by Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, who had discussed ideas for a centerpiece for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. In May 1884 Koechlin, working at his home, made an outline drawing of their scheme, described by him as "a great pylon, consisting of four lattice girders standing apart at the base and coming together at the top, joined together by metal trusses at regular intervals". Initially Eiffel showed little enthusiasm, although he did sanction further study of the project, and the two engineers then asked Stephen Sauvestre to add architectural embellishments. Sauvestre added the decorative arches to the base, a glass pavilion to the first level and the cupola at the top. The enhanced idea gained Eiffel's support for the project, and he bought the rights to the patent on the design which Koechlin, Nougier and Sauvestre had taken out. The design was exhibited at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in the autumn of 1884, and on 30 March 1885 Eiffel read a paper on the project to the Société des Ingénieurs Civils.

After discussing the technical problems and emphasizing the practical uses of the tower, he finished his talk by saying that the tower would symbolize "not only the art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement of the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France's gratitude."

Little happened until the beginning of 1886, but with the re-election of Jules Grévy as President and his appointment of Edouard Lockroy as Minister for Trade decisions began to be made. A budget for the Exposition was passed and on 1 May Lockroy announced an alteration to the terms of the open competition which was being held for a centerpiece for the exposition, which effectively made the choice of Eiffel's design a foregone conclusion: all entries had to include a study for a 300 m (980 ft) four-sided metal tower on the Champ de Mars. On 12 May a commission was set up to examine Eiffel's scheme and its rivals and on 12 June it presented its decision, which was that only Eiffel's proposal met their requirements. After some debate about the exact site for the tower, a contract was signed on 8 January 1887. This was signed by Eiffel acting in his own capacity rather than as the representative of his company, and granted him one and a half million francs toward the construction costs. This was less than a quarter of the estimated cost of six and a half million francs. Eiffel was to receive all income from the commercial exploitation during the exhibition and for the following twenty years.

Eiffel later established a separate company to manage the tower.
The tower had been a subject of some controversy, attracting criticism both from those who did not believe it feasible and from those who objected on artistic grounds. Just as work began at the Champ de Mars, the "Committee of Three Hundred" (one member for each metre of the tower's height) was formed, led by Charles Garnier and including some of the most important figures of the French arts establishment, including Adolphe Bouguereau, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet: a petition was sent to Jean-Charles Alphand, the Minister of Works, and was published by Le Temps.

Work on the foundations was complete by 30 June and the erection of the iron work was started. Although no more than 250 men were employed on the site, a prodigious amount of exacting preparatory work was entailed: the drawing office produced 1,700 general drawings and 3,629 detail drawings of the 18,038 different parts needed. The task of drawing the components was complicated by the complex angles involved in the design and the degree of precision required: the positions of rivet holes were specified to within 0.1 mm (0.04 in) and angles worked out to one second of arc. The components, some already riveted together into sub-assemblies, were first bolted together, the bolts being replaced by rivets as construction progressed. No drilling or shaping was done on site: if any part did not fit it was sent back to the factory for alteration. The four legs, each at an angle of 54° to the ground, were initially constructed as cantilevers, relying on the anchoring bolts in the masonry foundation blocks. Eiffel had calculated that this would be satisfactory until they approached halfway to the first level: accordingly work was stopped for the purpose of erecting a wooden supporting scaffold. This gave ammunition to his critics, and lurid headlines including "Eiffel Suicide!" and "Gustave Eiffel has gone mad: he has been confined in an Asylum" appeared in the popular press. At this stage a small "creeper" crane was installed in each leg, designed to move up the tower as construction progressed and making use of the guides for the elevators which were to be fitted in each leg. After this brief pause erection of the metalwork continued, and the critical operation of linking the four legs was successfully completed by March 1888. In order to precisely align the legs so that the connecting girders could be put into place, a provision had been made to enable precise adjustments by placing hydraulic jacks in the footings for each of the girders making up the legs.

By June construction had reached the second level platform, and on Bastille Day this was used for a fireworks display, and Eiffel held a celebratory banquet for the press on the first level platform. The main structural work was completed at the end of March, and on the 31st Eiffel celebrated this by leading a group of government officials, accompanied by representatives of the press, to the top of the tower. Since the lifts were not yet in operation, the ascent was made by foot, and took over an hour, Eiffel frequently stopping to make explanations of various features. Most of the party chose to stop at the lower levels, but a few, including Nouguier, Compagnon, the President of the City Council and reporters from Le Figaro and Le Monde Illustré completed the climb. At 2.35 Eiffel hoisted a large tricolour, to the accompaniment of a 25-gun salute fired from the lower level.


Later Career
After his retirement from the Compagnie des Etablissements Eiffel, Eiffel went on to do important work in meteorology and aerodynamics. Eiffel's interest in these areas was a consequence of the problems he had encountered with the effects of wind forces on the structures he had built.

His first aerodynamic experiments, an investigation of the air resistance of surfaces, was carried out by dropping the surface to be investigated together with a measuring apparatus down a vertical cable stretched between the second level of the Eiffel Tower and the ground. Using this Eiffel definitely established that the air resistance of a body was very closely related to the square of the airspeed. He then built a laboratory on the Champ de Mars at the foot of the tower in 1905, building his first wind tunnel there in 1909. The wind tunnel was used to investigate the characteristics of the airfoil sections used by the early pioneers of aviation such as the Wright Brothers, Gabriel Voisin and Louis Blériot.

Eiffel established that the lift produced by an airfoil was the result of a reduction of air pressure above the wing rather than an increase of pressure acting on the under surface. Following complaints about noise from people living nearby, he moved his experiments to a new establishment at Auteuil in 1912. Here it was possible to build a larger wind tunnel, and Eiffel began to make tests using scale models of aircraft designs. In 1913 Eiffel was awarded the Samuel P. Langley Medal for Aerodromics by the Smithsonian Institution. His researches, published in 1907 and 1911, on the resistance of the air in connection with aviation, are especially valuable. They have given engineers the data for designing and constructing flying machines upon sound, scientific principles Eiffel had meteorological measuring equipment placed on the tower in 1889, and also built a weather station at his house in Sèvres. Between 1892 and 1891 he compiled a complete set of meteorological readings, and later extended his record-taking to include measurements from 25 different locations across France.

Eiffel died on 27 December 1923, while listening to Beethoven's 5th symphony andante, in his mansion on Rue Rabelais in Paris, France. He was buried in the family tomb in Levallois-Perret Cemetery.


- October 11
- December 09













Old Editions
» 2015
» 2014
» 2013
» 2012
» 2011
» 2010
» 2009
» Home
  Copyright © 2009. Optimized for 1024 x 768 resolution; IE 5.5 & above.