More than Just a Tower

Gustave was born in 1832 in France. His mother was a successful businesswoman, a rarity at the time. He was primarily raised by his grandmother. Gustave was an indifferent student but bright. He graduated from college with a degree in chemistry.

After a few false starts in his career, he got a job designing a railway bridge. This led to other design jobs, primarily of bridges. Using these experiences, he was able to borrow money to set up his own design business.

Over time, Gustave became known as one of the most respected engineers of his time. He became an innovator in his use of materials and prefabricated components. When Auguste Bartholdi needed help in the design of the Statue of Liberty, he called on Gustave for help.

Gustave had expertise in designs that were subject to winds. While Bartholdi is known as the designer of the Statue of Liberty, it was actually built at Gustave’s facility, then disassembled, and transported to America.

When Paris was preparing for a world exposition in 1889, two of the organizers came to Gustave for help. They had a crude drawing of a pylon that would be the central point of the exposition. He had little interest in the project. However when an architect made the pylon design “prettier”, Gustave became interested. He bought the patent for the design.   

Little happened until a budget was approved by the French government for the exposition. A competition was set for the showpiece at the center of the exposition. Gustave won the competition, but the money awarded was a fraction of what it would take to complete the project.

The project stirred considerable controversy. Some believed it was infeasible while others objected on aesthetic grounds. Many of the most prominent members of the French art establishment petitioned to stop the project, but the project went forward.  

Today, Gustave Eiffel’s tower is synonymous with Paris. Like many innovations, it’s faced its share of criticism. Headlines in the paper commented on Gustave’s mental state. There were calls for him to be committed to an asylum. Certainly, the name Eiffel is well-known today, but few might know of the personal risks he took in building the tower that bears his name.

What else we may not realize about Gustave Eiffel was that he was a pioneer in the study of aerodynamics. His tower became the first wind tunnel and his work was instrumental in understanding of flight.

 Gustave’s tower was also instrumental in meteorological studies. When you think of the career of Gustave Eiffel, few know of his contributions to the growth of rail networks, his understanding of forces on structural design, his understanding of aerodynamics, or of his meteorological advances.

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“I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more than I am.” – Gustave Eiffel

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