How They Built the Eiffel Tower

Written by LetsBuild

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Well, as usual, they talked about it for far longer than they actually took to build it! Started blethering and arguing in 1884 but didn’t start actually building until January 1887. It was ready for the World’s Fair in 1889.

First thing to realise is that it probably couldn’t have been built in an earlier generation simply because the steel industry hadn’t evolved enough to be able to manufacture the components. Now all praise really has to go to the engineering companies that produced the metal components! There are 18,038 bits of steel, held together by 2½ million rivets.

The angles on the steel had to be accurate to one second of arc and the positioning of the rivet holes within 0.1 millimetres!

An awful lot of work for the engineering draughtsmen to work that lot out followed by some very exacting manufacturing! So how did they actually build it?

Well, first thing is it has four corner columns, so they dug four holes and flopped some concrete into them. Two were fairly simple; the couple on the Seine side had to have deep pilings put in first. Pretty bits of limestone were stuck on top of the foundations.

Once that was done bits of metal started arriving on site. The four side base bits were actually bolted together, not riveted, flat on the ground and then pulled up into position by cranes and bolted down onto the foundations.

The 4½ inch bolts must have needed some big spanners!

After that thing started to get hairy! They built timber, yes timber, scaffolding to stick up the top half of the first stage.

Then things got even hairier!

For the rest of it the guys had, essentially, to stroll along the steel girders with only minimum fall-protection! Don’t know what and how they did it, but H&S must have been hammered into the heads of the lads because there was only one death by falling off it!

That was a fantastic achievement for that era in construction. The steel was lifted up by temporary cranes stuck on top of each section. Get it in place; scramble up like a spider; hammers out; fix rivets! At least getting up to the levels where they had to work was made easier for them. Originally they had to climb ladders all the way! Obviously Tourists wouldn’t be willing to do that, so lifts got installed and the lads used them! Bet they added quite a bit of time to the actual working day, all that ladder-climbing saved! The lifts are the only part of the Tower not manufactured in France. Because of all the changes in angle they had to go through, unlike normal lifts which go straight up, the only outfit willing to make them was Otis.

As construction projects go this was a pretty good one. Helluva design, very complex and stuck up in quick time! There it was, ready for the World’s Fair!

Now I’ve no idea about how much the guys working on the Eiffel Tower got paid. The only guess I’ll make is that they were fairly well paid simply because of everything going on to get Paris ready for its World’s Fair! Whatever, I bet that they all were proud of what the built. Such a landmark that any of them living in Paris wouldn’t even have to travel to admire it! Just look out of their windows!

When the build of the Eiffel Tower was proposed there was a lot of objection to it. The reasoning was that it simply didn’t fit into the architectural style of Paris and that it would be an eyesore stuck up there above everything else. Well, I suppose they were, and still are, correct in that, but look what they have ended up with a century later. A globally recognised iconic building! A picture of it has become an iconic representation not only of Paris, but of the whole of France!

Take a look at other “How they built” posts at Geniebelt blog.

Quick flash of the Tower on the TV screen and we all know they are going to go on about Paris – or will it be Blackpool?