“I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am,” Eiffel famously once said when speaking of his greatest engineering project. But perhaps he should have mentioned his best purchase was more famous than he was. Because the Eiffel Tower wasn’t designed by Gustave Eiffel but by senior engineers working for Eiffel’s company.
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly! I was also shocked to discover my favourite French monument has a lot more history hiding behind its iron lattice than you’d first believe…
If the Eiffel Tower wasn’t designed by Gustave Eiffel, who did design it?
Well, although many people think that the Iron Lady is the brainchild of Eiffel himself, it was actually designed by engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier who, at the time, worked for Gustave Eiffel’s Company, Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel.
The idea came about when the pair were imagining ideas for a suitable centrepiece for the World’s Fair Exhibition in Paris of 1889 which was also supposed to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. One day Koechlin was sat at home when he imagined “a great pylon, consisting of four lattice girders standing apart at the base and coming together at the top, joined together by metal trusses at regular intervals“. The pair continued to work on the plans and thus the Iron Tower was born…
Although Eiffel was an engineer himself (he himself designed the Gare/ Station at Verdun among other monuments around France), he initially showed little to no interest in the project. He was intrigued enough to allow his engineers to continue designing the project and enlisted the help of senior engineer Stephen Sauvestre to aid them in their project.
With a few modifications by Sauverstre (including extra embellishments to the legs of the tower) and a glass level on the first floor, Eiffel was eventually won over by the design. Gustave Eiffel then bought the rights and patents to the tower from the three men, and the rest is history!
Construction of the Eiffel Tower, 1887-1889. This photo was taken after the completion of the first level on the 20th March 1888.