The Fascinating History and Controversial Construction of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, My Modern Met may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.

As one of the most visited cities in the world, Paris is continuously celebrated for the unique features that define it. In addition to love, light, and croissants, it is also renowned for the distinctive beauty of its buildings. From enchanting Art Nouveau entrances to its ethereal Gothic cathedrals, the capital city showcases French architecture at its finest—with, of course, the iconic Eiffel Tower at the forefront.

While most will recognize the Eiffel Tower (or La Tour Eiffel as they say in French) as the unofficial emblem of Paris, not many are aware of its unique history and controversial beginnings. Here, we explore the story behind the one-of-a-kind edifice that has stood tall over the city for over 125 years.


Paris, France
March 31, 1889
1,083 ft (330 m)
Wrought Iron
Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier
Stephen Sauvestre


Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

Photo: Walkerssk


Why Was the Eiffel Tower Built?

Eiffel et Compagnie, a firm owned by French architect and engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923), designed and constructed the iron tower for the Exposition Universelle, or World's Fair, in 1889.

Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

Portrait photograph of French engineer Gustave Eiffel, 1910 (Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Selected from over 100 entries, the tower would act as the entrance to the event, where people from around the globe gathered to experience its avant-garde attractions, including everything from theatrical performances and musical shows to innovative inventions and scientific findings.

Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

Poster of the Exposition Universelle, 1889 (Photo: Musée Carnavalet via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)


History of the Eiffel Tower

The basic design of the Eiffel Tower was introduced to Eiffel by Eiffel et Compagnie engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier. They imagined “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.”

This unprecedented aesthetic was depicted by Koechlin in an early sketch in 1884:

Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

Blueprint of the Eiffel Tower, 1884 (Photo: Maurice Koechlin, Émile Nouguier via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Eiffel agreed to build upon their vision. He worked with architect Stephen Sauvetre, civil engineer Émile Nouguier, and structural engineer Maurice Koechlin to envision a three-leveled, 1,063-foot (or 300 meters) tower made of wrought iron.

In addition to showcasing his engineering skills, Eiffel intended to commemorate the French Revolution with his tower, as the World's Fair would fall 100 years after its onset. Thus, to Eiffel, the edifice was much more than an entrance; it was “an expression of France's gratitude.” In fact, the Eiffel Tower is still used as a focal point for celebrations on Bastille Day (July 14) and New Year's Eve.


Construction Begins

While Eiffel's design for the fair was given the go-ahead, some members of the public were not on-board with his unprecedented design. Fearing that the line between art and engineering was in danger of being blurred, a protest group featuring architects, artists, composers, writers, and other “passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris” formed. They wrote and filed a petition (aptly named Protestation des artistes contre la tour de Monsieur Eiffel, or “Protest Against the Tower of Mr. Eiffel”) in February of 1887, but were too late—construction had already begun in January.

Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

Photo of the Eiffel Tower, July 1888 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)


Grand Opening

The tower opened to the public in May of 1889, a few days after the debut of the Exposition Universelle. As its elevators were not in service until the end of the month, visitors had to use the stairs, ultimately climbing 1,710 steps to reach the top of the tower. Given the monument's fascinating aesthetic and spectacular vantage point, however, 30,000 people happily made the elevator-free ascent!

Eiffel Tower History How Tall is The Eiffel Tower Why Was The Eiffel Tower Built

Engraving of a view of the World's Fair, Paris, France, 1889 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)


How the Eiffel Tower Became an Official Landmark

Originally, the Eiffel Tower was intended as a temporary installation that would be demolished after 20 years. However, hoping to save his creation, Eiffel suggested the tower be used as a radiotelegraph station. Fortunately, his pitch worked, and the tower was saved from destruction, becoming a permanent fixture in the city of Paris.

Today, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited paid monument in the world, attracting over 7 million annual sightseers. It remains the tallest structure in the City of Lights and continues to captivate tourists and locals alike with its striking, sky-high silhouette which can be seen from all around the 7th arrondissement and along boats passing by on the Seine.


Books About the Eiffel Tower


This article has been edited and updated.

Related Articles:

Architecture 101: 10 Architectural Styles That Define Western Society

World’s Oldest Paris Photo Is Also the First to Feature Humans

Late 19th-Century Paris Documented in Graphic Prints and Posters by Toulouse-Lautrec

Interview: Founder of MessyNessyChic Explains How to Visit Paris Like a Local in New “Non-Guide Book”

Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content