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History of the Eiffel Tower in 60 Seconds

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 18 December 2017

No Parisian monument is more famous than the Eiffel Tower, the star of every movie ever set in Paris, whose unmistakable silhouette adorns calendars, mugs, tea towels, diaries, makeup bags, and more. Despite a century of global celebrity, France’s very own Iron Lady perhaps still has one or two secrets that have escaped your attention until now.

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Maud Caillet / © Culture Trip

Most people know that the tower was commissioned as the centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle but what’s less well known is that the original designs weren’t penned by the man whose name it carries, Gustave Eiffel, but by Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, the chief engineers of his firm, Compagnie des Etablissements Eiffel.

Work for the tower’s foundation began on January 28, 1887, and the entire build took just two years, two months, and five days, finishing on March 31, 1889.

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Maud Caillet / © Culture Trip

What Architectural Style Does it Represent?

It’s hard to pin the Eiffel Tower down to one style, mostly because it is really a work of structural engineering with some architectural features slapped on top. Nouguier and Koechlin had been working on the idea of building an extremely tall tower since June 1884 and the World Fair contest was their chance to try it out.

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Maud Caillet / © Culture Trip

Realizing that their blueprints which, though impressive, were unlikely to set the public’s imagination on fire, they commissioned the architect Stephen Sauvestre to work on the tower’s appearance. He suggested stonework pedestals to dress up the legs, monumental arches that would link the four merging columns, large glass-walled halls on each of the levels, and a bulb-shaped top, as well as a raft of other decorative features.

The eventual look of the tower was somewhat simplified from Sauvestre’s initial sketches but many of its distinguishing features are thanks to his architectural intervention.

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Maud Caillet / © Culture Trip

Did You Know it Was Once Sold For Scrap Metal?

In 1925, con artist Victor Lustig invited six scrap metal dealers to a private meeting at the Hôtel de Crillon on forged government stationery. In fact, Lustig had already targeted André Poisson, a businessman on the fringes of Paris’ social scene, as the victim of his scam.

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Maud Caillet / © Culture Trip

There was one snag: Poisson’s wife was suspicious. Who was this official? Why was everything so hush-hush? And why on Earth would he need the money by tomorrow? Sobered somewhat, Poisson went back to Lustig for a second meeting, at which the supposed government minister confessed to carrying out the deal under the radar so that he could accept backhanders from the right kind of buyer (nudge-nudge-wink-wink). Accepting this logic completely, Poisson not only paid handsomely for the tower but slipped in a substantial bribe for Lustig, who then swiftly disappeared to Vienna.

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Maud Caillet / © Culture Trip

Thoroughly shamed for having been hoodwinked, Poisson chose not to alert the police. It was only when Lustig attempted the same scam on a less easily duped businessman several months later that the matter of the Eiffel Tower being sold came to light.