Art & Culture

Published on December 23rd, 2016 | by Maureen Youngblood


Who was Gustave Eiffel ?


Gustave Eiffel. Photo by Wikipedia.

When one thinks of Gustave Eiffel, normally an image of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty enters the mind. Gustave Eiffel created far more structures than just these two, not just in France or the United States, but all over the world. It is important to appreciate the countless other projects designed and built by Gustave Eiffel that still survive. The list of Eiffel’s works is a long one, from approximately 40 buildings and structures, to almost 30 bridges and viaducts.

To list a few:
* The railway station, Toulouse France (1862)
* Pont de Ferro or Pont Eiffel in Girona, Spain. (1876)
* Ruhnu Lighthouse at Ruhnu Island, Estonia (1877)
* Farol de São Thomé, Campos, Brazil
* Konak Pier, Izmir, Turkey (1890)
* Imbaba Bridge, Cairo, Egypt (1892)

Gustave Eiffel attended formal schooling at L’Ecole Central des Arts et Manufactures in Paris; he graduated 13th out of 80 in his class in 1855. After a few short-lasting jobs, he secured a position with the Chemins de Fer de l’Ouest that was later acquired by Compagnie Belge de Materiels de Chemin de Fer. It was here that Eiffel created his first large-scale project, the Bordeaux Bridge. The first task Eiffel was assigned was to assemble the metalwork for the construction but later he was assigned management of the entire project in 1860. After successful completion of the Bordeaux Bridge, Eiffel was then appointed principal engineer of Compagnie Belge.

In 1865 Eiffel established himself as an independent consulting engineer. After overseeing several projects, including the railway stations at Toulouse and Agen, the Egyptian government sought his services in overseeing the construction of 33 train locomotives due to his extensive knowledge of metal construction.


Cathedral San Marcos in Arica, Chile. Photo by ChileTravel.

Eiffel then opened his own workshop in 1866. Among his many projects was the church of San Marcos in Arica, Chile. The structure was fabricated in France and shipped by boat to Chile where it was assembled on the site of the former church that was destroyed in an earthquake in 1868. The church structure is completely fabricated out of metal with visible divots that connect and hold the individual pieces. The church remains today and has withstood many earthquakes.

Eiffel was one of many to become connected to the construction of the Panama Canal. In 1887 he was contracted by The French Panama Canal Company to design and build the lock system of the then-proposed canal. After running out of funds, the company went bankrupt during the first phases of the project. Eiffel suffered part of the blame for the bankruptcy even though he was only a contractor. He was charged with raising money under false pretenses and misappropriation of funds along with the directors of the project. Though he never had to serve any time in prison, he was required to pay 20,000 Francs. This damage to his reputation forced him to remove himself from the canal project. The Panama Canal project was later taken over by the United States under direction of Theodore Roosevelt. Eiffel removed himself from the board of directors of his company, Compagnie des Etablissements after suffering the humiliation of the Panama Canal Scandal.

His next venture was to work with aerodynamics and meteorology. He chose to focus on these two disciplines after experiencing issues with wind forces on the surfaces of many of the structure he had designed and built over the years. In 1989, Eiffel had meteorological measuring equipment placed on the Eiffel Tower. He also constructed a wind tunnel on the tower to study air forces, not only for solid structures, but also for aviation in which France had a deep interest. In 1913, Eiffel was awarded the Samuel P. Langley Medal for Aerodromics by the Smithsonian Institution. Eiffel died on December 27, 1923, at his mansion on Rue Rabelais in Paris, France. He was buried in the family tomb in Levallois-Perret Cemetery.

Gustave Eiffel had a long and successful career as an engineer. He was known as “the magician of iron”. The structures he designed and built have stood the test of time and surprisingly, are sprinkled thought the world. The next time you travel to Argentina, Vietnam, Peru, Turkey, or Uruguay, only to name a few, be on the lookout for a structure or bridge that the bears the Eiffel name.

Sources: Wikipedia. Accessed July 1, 2015. Britannica. Accessed July 8, 2015 Accessed July 8, 2015 The Eiffel Tower. Accesssed July 15, 2015.

Heading Page Photo: Wikipedia


About the Author

was born and raised in the United States and is currently living in California. She discovered her love of the French language and culture in high school and continued her education of all things French in college where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She enjoys living near the ocean, traveling and French pastries.

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