Eiffel Tower Engineering

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic engineered structures in the world, standing as a symbol of France and a testament to human ingenuity. Completed on the 31st March, 1889, it has captured the imagination of people around the globe with its stunning visual appeal and remarkable engineering. Gustave Eiffel, the brilliant French civil engineer born on the 15th December 1832, was the mastermind behind this architectural marvel. Renowned for his expertise in iron construction, Eiffel’s legacy extends far beyond the Eiffel Tower. He made significant contributions to the design of bridges, viaducts, and even the structural framework of the Statue of Liberty, leaving an indelible mark on the world of engineering and architecture.

The construction of the Eiffel Tower presented numerous engineering challenges, which Gustave Eiffel and his team brilliantly overcame. The awe-inspiring monument has stood the test of time, attracting millions of visitors each year who come to admire its beauty and learn about its storied history. As a beautiful fusion of artistry and engineering, the Eiffel Tower stands as a tribute to human creativity and perseverance, captivating all who behold its grandeur.

The story of the Eiffel Tower begins in the late 19th century when France was preparing for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. A competition was announced to design an iron tower that would stand in the Champ de Mars park near the Seine River. Over a hundred designs were submitted, and the winning design was created by Gustave Eiffel’s engineering company, known as Gustave Eiffel & Cie.
One of the least known facts about the Tower is that it was never meant to be a permanent structure on the Parisian landscape. Instead, it was intended to be a temporary structure for approximately 20 years that commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the French Revolution. However the decision to add equipment at the top to transmit radio signals meant that the tower would have a longer lifespan. Today, equipment on the tower is still critical to broadcasting radio and TV shows.

Eiffel Tower Engineering Challenges

One of the biggest engineering challenges of the Eiffel Tower was its remarkable height. At 324 meters (1,063 feet), it was the tallest man-made structure in the world until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York City in 1930. To reach such a great height while maintaining stability, Eiffel and his team needed to develop innovative solutions particularly to withstand the wind resistance and the forces exerted by wind on such a tall structure.
Taller structures are more vulnerable to the forces of wind. The Eiffel Tower was designed with open lattice-like ironwork to minimise wind resistance. Its iconic shape, consisting of four curved iron legs that meet at the top, helps the tower withstand strong winds.

The tower’s construction presented the challenge of putting together over 18,000 individual iron pieces.
These pieces were pre-fabricated in Eiffel’s factory and then transported to the site. Precise assembly was critical to ensure the pieces fit together perfectly.
The safety of workers during construction was a primary concern for Eiffel. Although construction involved 300 on-site employees, due to Eiffel’s safety precautions and the use of movable gangways, guardrails, nets and screens, only one person died during its construction.

The Strength of Steel

The Eiffel Tower is constructed primarily from iron, specifically puddled iron, a form of wrought iron. At the time of its construction, steel was available although it was still a new material and process and therefore, not as readily available. It was also more expensive. Puddled iron was ultimately used because it could be moulded and shaped more easily and Gustave Eiffel was much more experienced and familiar with it. Whilst it can be said that Iron is a strong material, steel is much stronger. The difference lies in the carbon content. Steel contains a specific amount of carbon that increases its strength, making it the preferred material for modern skyscrapers and bridges. Nonetheless, the Eiffel Tower’s iron framework showcases the engineering marvel of its time. The lattice structure of the Eiffel Tower provides the tower with strength and stability with each component of the tower contributing to its overall strength. The iron pieces, connected by about 2.5 million rivets, work together to support the immense weight of the tower.

Steel and iron structures are known for their durability, which is evident in the Eiffel Tower’s longevity. Despite its age, it remains a robust and enduring icon of engineering.
The Eiffel Tower stands as a testament to human creativity, ingenuity, and determination. Its early history, design, and construction represent a remarkable achievement in the field of engineering. The challenges faced by Gustave Eiffel and his team were conquered with innovative solutions, and the strength of iron in its lattice-like structure has enabled the tower to endure for well over a century.
This iconic structure not only symbolises France but also stands as an enduring symbol of the power of engineering to shape the world around us. The Eiffel Tower’s legacy continues to inspire the engineers of today and tomorrow, reminding us of the incredible possibilities that can be achieved through science, technology, and human imagination.


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Read about the engineering of the Sydney Opera House here.