Standing tall at 1,052 feet (320.57 m), the imposing iron structure called the Eiffel Tower was once ridiculed by Parisians as being an eyesore and embarrassment to French art and culture. Today, it graces the skyline of the French capital, marking Paris on the map as being the world's most visited city destination. It was named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, an ingenious engineer whose design of the tower turned it into a reality and pride of the French nation.
Born on 15 December 1832 in Côte d'Or, France, Eiffel never imagined that he was destined to create some of the world's greatest structures that exist generations into the future. Upon his graduation from the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1855, he became interested in the construction of metal structures, particularly railways and bridges.
Eiffel's first job was as a project manager supervising the building of a bridge that spanned across the Garonne River in Bordeaux, south of France. His brilliance and diligence caught the eye of his employer, Charles Nepveu, who continued placing him in supervising positions for many of the company's bridge and railway station building projects. In 1864, he set up his own business as a specialist in the construction of metal structures. His company, Eiffel et Cie., grew renowned for its innovative yet economic designs of iron and metal edifices.
One of Eiffel's earliest successes was the building of a 525-feet (160 m) long railway bridge called the Ponte Maria Pia in 1877. This transparent iron bridge helped people traveling between the Portuguese cities of Porto and Lisbon to avoid a 7.5-mile (12 km) detour. Instead, the bridge extended the railway line by 1,158 feet (353 m) into Lisbon. Built at a height of 197 feet (60 m) across the Douro River, this bridge was officiated by the King and Queen of Portugal at the time. In 1991, it was replaced by the St. John Bridge.
The engineer became well-known for his unique use of techniques in all his buildings and structures. Optimizing his knowledge of mathematics and science, he designed another memorable structure, the Garabit viaduct, in 1884. This 1,854-feet (565-m) long railway bridge is built over the Truyère River in the region of Cantal, France. A year later, he began the design on the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from France to the United States of America as a symbol of international amity and unity.
Eiffel's career as a specialist consultant in metal structures reached its peak when his proposal to build the Eiffel Tower was accepted out of the 700 proposals sent in. Construction of the tower began in 1887. His careful calculation and placement of 18,038 iron pieces fitted together with almost three million rivets, is a remarkable engineering feat even until now. The exact measurements of wind pressures at different heights and against the base pylons ensured that the tower could withstand any impact of wind in the future.
Construction was completed two years later on 31 March 1889, just in time for the Centenary Exposition, a celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the French Revolution. At this time, the tower was the tallest building in the world, replaced by the Chrysler Building in New York 41 years later. In its first year alone, the tower received two million visitors. Today, six million people from all over the world pay tribute to this impressive iron structure.
Eiffel's ingenuity in design and architecture earned him the Legion d'Honneur, a great distinction in France at the time. After the construction of the tower, he continued his endeavors as a scientist and researcher in the area of aerodynamics until his death on 27 December 1923. Even though his death was a great loss to the nation, his legacy continues to stand as a magnificent landmark of Paris for years to come.