The History of World Expositions

The Paris World Exposition 1889
The Engineer Gustave Eiffel: A Specialist for large scale Iron Constructions

Year: 1889
City: Paris
Country: France
Duration: 6th May - 31st October 1889

Copyright: Revue de l'Exposition universelle de 1889, S. 41

The engineer who built the 300 meter high tower which was soon to bear his name, came from a family of German migrants called Boenickhausen, who took on the more easily pronounceable name of their home region, the north Eiffel. Gustave Eiffel was born on 15 December 1823 in Dijon. After attending school and taking his baccalaureate, he studied engineering at the Ecole des Arts et Manufactures in Paris. He was uninspired as a student, his degree, majoring in chemistry, was only average. It was only while working as an unsalaried apprentice at an iron works in Dijon that he developed his taste for engineering with iron. Eiffel started climbing the ladder to success in 1856, and ten years later set up his own company in Levallois-Perret near Paris. The Societé Eiffel soon had a reputation as a specialist for large scale iron constructions: bridges with spans previously unheard of, like the Garabit-Viaduct, the station at Pest, and the dome of the observatory in Nice. Eiffel's firm even supplied prefabricated iron bridges - which could be ordered from a catalogue.

It was less his own design work and more his ability to set up complex organisational structures and pick the right people to work on the most promising projects which made Eiffel the ideal entrepreneur to build the hallmark of the World Exposition in 1889. The Eiffel tower was the pinnacle of his life's work. The order to build ten large locks for the Panama canal in 1890 (a gigantic project in every aspect) sucked Eiffel into the financial quicksand which engulfed the canal building project. Eiffel was forced to turn his company into an stock corporation and he withdrew completely from business activities. During the last years of his life he dedicated himself to scientific questions. He built a large fan for a wind tunnel to test the flight characteristics of model aircraft and, until a very advanced age, he arranged numerous experiments from the Eiffel tower to investigate the laws of gravity - to justify the continued existence of his tower. Gustave Eiffel died on 27 December 1923.

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