Paris often hosted world fairs in the 19th century. The French prided themselves for being on the cutting edge of engineering, the arts, education, and technology. The world fairs in Paris showcased all these and more to an eager world. The 1889 world‘s fair was no exception.
This time, the event was held in honor of the 100th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, the seminal event in what would become the French Revolution. France held a nationwide contest for designers to create pavilions and buildings and art that would celebrate this historic event and showcase French ingenuity to the rest of Europe and the world.
A civil engineer named Gustave entered his design for the architecture exhibition. At first blush, Gustave seemed to be out of his depth, somewhat—at least that’s what most people thought. He had built his professional reputation on erecting railroad bridges. True, he had built some railroad stations around the world, but they were not remarkable.
But, in many ways, Gustave was a good representative of France as an international power at that point in the national history. His bridges and buildings were found all over the world; Chile, Vietnam, Venezuela, Romania, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Peru, and even parts of Africa all had seen Gustave’s works erected. Many of France’s colonies had railroads that ran across bridges built by Gustave.
Gustave found, to his own delight and to some other, more prominent builders’ dismay, that his proposal was awarded the contract, and work began on his project. He only used 200 men to complete his structure, and he pre-fabricated much of the work in his shop. Then, he had it shipped down the Seine River on barges to the worlds fair construction site. One historian recently said that the work was put together much like a modern 3-D puzzle.
When the structure was finished, the public and professional reception came pouring in. And, almost to a person, people hated it. “It’s an embarrassment,“ seemed to be on the mild end of the spectrum, while comments such as “Even the Americans would not build such a thing as gauche as this” occupied more of the middle of the road reviews. Decorum prohibits this blogger from detailing the reviews from some of the more nasty critics of that time.
“Well,” some people reasoned, “this national embarrassment, this public monstrosity, will only be around for a few years, and then it will be torn down. Thank God!“
Yet, Gustave was not to be daunted. He felt that history would treat his creation kindly.
And so it has.
For, you see, Gustave‘s last name was Eiffel. His tower is now probably the foremost symbol of the illustrious French nation