These 39 Surprising Eiffel Tower Facts And Photos Tell The Story You’ve Never Heard

Published March 31, 2016
Updated February 10, 2017

When you hear the word “Paris,” the first thing that comes to mind is almost certainly the Eiffel Tower. But did you know many Parisians never wanted it built, and protested its construction vehemently? Or that even the French government wanted it torn down just 20 years after its 1889 inauguration?

Yet still it stands today, as perhaps the best-known manmade structure in the world. But the journey that’s kept the tower standing has been far from easy — or expected. Let these surprising Eiffel Tower facts and photos reveal everything you never knew about this supremely iconic Parisian landmark:

Clouds Tower
Today, the Eiffel Tower attracts a staggering 7 million visitors and brings in an equally staggering $495 million each year...

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Looking Up Middle
But its standing wasn't always so secure. Its troubled, surprising history is filled with countless close calls and near misses...

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Night Lights Red Clouds
In fact, on several different occasions, it came very close to never being built in the first place...

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First Drawing
The world of course associates the creation of the Eiffel Tower with Gustave Eiffel. However, it was actually designed by two of his employees, Émile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin, whose original drawing for the tower appears above.

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Designers
In fact, Eiffel showed little interest in the two men's design. So, Koechlin (top left) and Nouguier (top right) asked another Eiffel employee, Stephen Sauvestre (bottom), for help. After the three created a new design, Eiffel signed off on it.

Image Sources (clockwise from top left): Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sauvestre.

Gustave Eiffel
After Eiffel (above) bought the design, he signed a government contract that allowed him to receive any and all commercial revenue the tower would generate.

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Charles Garnier
But even though the contract was signed and the deal was done, a large and vocal community of Parisians strongly opposed the tower's construction.

Led by architect Charles Garnier (above), this "Committee of Three Hundred" believed the tower was an aesthetic abomination.

They published a petition in Le Temps newspaper, writing that "this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower" would dominate Paris "like a gigantic black smokestack" and that the city's other monuments would "disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years [...] we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal."

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Foundation Pit
That petition stated that the tower would blight the city for 20 years because it was originally only to stay up for that long, at which point it would be disassembled.

But first, of course, it had to be built. Construction on the foundations (above) began on January 28, 1887.

Because of the tower's immense size, the foundation began 50 feet below ground and used concrete slabs as much as 20 feet thick.

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Base Initial Construction
The rest of the numbers behind the tower's construction are equally astounding. For example, the tower is made up of 8,038 pieces joined together by 2.5 million rivets.

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Legs Construction
All these parts add up to a total weight of 10,100 tons...

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Base Constructed
...which is actually extremely light, given the tower's height of 984 feet. This is of course due to the tower's remarkably efficient design, which used as few parts as necessary to keep the tower erect.

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Base Full
In fact, there is so much empty space in the tower's design that if you melted down all of its metal and poured it into the tower's case, it would rise just 2.46 inches high.

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Arch Base
It was built this way because the designers knew that something so tall would have to be able to stand up to the elements, namely wind, heat, and cold.

Thus, the tower's design allows it to be extremely adaptable. The tower sways by as much as three inches in the wind and expands and shrinks by as much as seven inches in the heat and cold, respectively.

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Arch Tower
Despite braving the elements themselves (not to mention unprecedented heights), the tower's 300 construction workers only saw one of their colleagues die due to an onsite accident -- a very low rate, given the circumstances.

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Full Tower
With so many men on the job, construction moved at a brisk pace, and the tower was completed in late March, 1889.

Upon completion, it became the tallest tower in the world by an unprecedented margin, at just under twice the size of its closest competitor. That magnitude of difference between the world's tallest and second tallest structures has never even been approached at any point in history before or since.

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Eiffel Tower Chrysler Building
The Eiffel Tower held its title until 1930, when New York's Chrysler Building (right) bested it by 60 feet.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons (left), Wikimedia Commons (right).

Engraved Names
But even after the tower finally reached its record height in March 1889, there were still a few intriguing embellishments left to be made.

For example, Eiffel had the names of 72 inspirational and influential French scientists, engineers, and mathematicians engraved on the tower just underneath the first balcony (above).

The names were painted over in the early 20th century but finally restored in 1986. Read the full list of names here.

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Top Apartment
Even more so than the engraved names, perhaps the tower's most interesting embellishment was the secret personal apartment that Eiffel had built at the top of the tower (above).

Eiffel used the apartment to conduct experiments and entertain guests, including famous ones like Thomas Edison. The apartment is now open to the public.

House Beautiful

Eiffel Tower Facts Exposition
While secrets like the apartment remained hidden for many, many years, the tower as a whole immediately fulfilled its purpose of creating a very public spectacle.

This began with the very reason the tower was constructed in the first place: to be the centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, a world's fair commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

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Exposition 1889 Crowd
The tower served as the entrance point for the exposition (above), with workers laboring through the night before the opening to complete the stairs that would allow the public to walk up the tower.

Other attractions at the exposition included Buffalo Bill's "Wild West Show" and a "Negro village," a human zoo filled with Africans.

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Lumiere Film
After the 1889 Exposition Universelle, the tower remained its hold on the public imagination, attracting all manner of people interested to explore its possibilities.

In 1898, the Lumiere brothers, often credited as the inventors of the motion picture, rode up the Eiffel Tower's elevator, filming all the way (see a still from that clip above and watch the full clip here.

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Santos Dumont Number Five
In 1901, pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont made a daring flight from the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud into the city and around the Eiffel Tower. Many credit this flight with kickstarting the early 20th century's airship craze.

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Moriarty Fly Under
Since Santos-dumont, many brave pilots have performed stunts involving the Eiffel Tower, including Robert Moriarty, who flew a Beechcraft Bonanza single-engine plane underneath the tower at high speeds in 1984 with a camera rolling from the cockpit the whole time (still above, full video here).

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Reichelt Before Jump
While stunts like Moriarty's were certainly daring, they were pulled off successfully and safely. However, one of the very first airborne stunts involving the tower did not end so well.

In 1912, Franz Reichelt (above), an Austrian tailor who'd claimed to invent his own kind of parachute, organized a public test of his invention in which he'd jump from the Eiffel Tower.

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Reichelt During Jump
His parachute didn't fully open and he fell 187 feet to his death in front of a crowd of onlookers and a cameraman (still above and full video here).

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Pierre Labric
Despite Reichelt's death, the tower did not scare daredevils away. In 1926, a journalist named Pierre Labric rode from the first floor (where Reichelt jumped from, 187 feet above the ground) down to the base on his bicycle (above).

Pinterest

Coutard Descuns
As the years went on, the bike stunts naturally became more and more daring. In 1983, Charles Coutard and Joël Descuns (above) rode up and down the tower on their motocross bikes.

Pinterest

Victor Lustig Eiffel Tower
And while the tower has always attracted the daring, it's also attracted the downright audacious. For one, in 1925, infamous conman Victor Lustig "sold" the tower for scrap metal -- twice.

Pretending to be a government official and taking advantage of the tower's very public state of disrepair at the time, Lustig convinced two different sets of wealthy scrap metal dealers, one month apart, that he'd been authorized to sell the tower for parts. Both times, he evaded capture.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons (left), Wikimedia Commons (right).

Citroen Ad
Of course, while Lustig fraudulently "sold" the tower twice, it didn't take long before the tower was actually sold, in a manner of speaking.

From 1925 to 1934, three of the tower's sides were illuminated with enormous advertisements for French auto manufacturer Citroën.

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Fireworks
In recent decades, the illumination of the tower has reached its zenith, with astounding fireworks displays not even remotely possible back when Citroën lit up three of the tower's sides.

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Eiffel Tower Facts France
More so than any other stunts (be it with planes, bikes, or parachutes), these dazzling fireworks and light displays have become the tower's great source of spectacle nowadays, at least since the tower was taken over by a management company in 1986. From that point until the present, the tower has enjoyed a long period of good health and popularity.

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World War I Guard
But before that management company took over -- and especially during France's tumultuous first half of the 20th century -- the tower had many close calls.

For starters, while the areas in and around Paris saw plenty of action during World War I (see the wartime guard at the tower above), the tower made it through unscathed. It even housed a radio transmitter that jammed German communications, helping the Allies achieve victory at the First Battle of the Marne.

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Nazis Hitler Eiffel Tower
However, the tower's fate was far more uncertain during World War II. When Hitler and the Nazis (above) stormed Paris, they took control of the tower, closing it to the public, cutting the elevator cables, and raising a swastika flag.

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Hitler Eiffel Tower
However, the first flag was so large that it blew away and was replaced by a smaller one a few hours later.

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Von Choltitz Tower
By 1944, however, the tide of the war had turned against the Nazis and they were losing their grip on Paris. Desperate to see it destroyed if he couldn't control it himself, Hitler ordered Paris' German commander, Dietrich von Choltitz (above), to demolish the tower (along with many of the rest of the city's major landmarks).

Von Choltitz refused, thus saving the tower and Paris. He would later claim that he loved the city too much and that he knew Hitler was, by that point, insane.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons (left), Wikimedia Commons (right).

French Flag World War Ii
After von Choltitz and the Germans were ousted, several groups raced to be the first to restore the French flag atop the tower (above). The first man to the top was a fire marshal who quickly made a flag by gathering three white bed sheets, dying one red, another blue, and then stitching the three together.

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De Gaulle Tower
Even after World War II and the tower's closest brush with death, there were a few close calls.

In 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle (above) negotiated a deal with the mayor of Montreal to dismantle the tower and move it there temporarily. The plan was ultimately abandoned out of fear that the French government (who, remember, originally wanted it dismantled after just 20 years) wouldn't allow the tower to be rebuilt after returning from Montreal.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons (left), Wikimedia Commons (right).

Eiffel Tower Facts Line
Since then -- and especially since new management took over in the 1980s -- the tower's future has been secure and its popularity booming (see the visitor's line above). Since the late 1960s, the tower's annual number of visitors has more than tripled.

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Men Repainting Tower
Nowadays, perhaps the biggest maintenance concern is merely the repainting that needs to be done every seven years -- in which it takes 60 tons of paint (which is the weight of about seven elephants).

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After you enjoy these fascinating Eiffel Tower facts, check out the man who turned the Eiffel Tower into an instrument. Then, for more on the beauty and mystery of the Paris of yesteryear, take a look at these vintage Paris photos from the 1940s.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.