Out of all the wondrous structures of the world – none are as iconic as the Eiffel Tower. It’s a testament to the achievements of man that the French wonder was built using far less superior machines compared to the sheet metal machinery we utilise today – and in such a short time period. Let’s take a look back at its origin and construction.
There was always a plan to build a 300-metre-tall structure in Paris as part of the 1889 World Trade Fair – what the structure would be, however, was not finalised or even roughly decided. A competition was held and received 107 applications – the winner of which was an entrepreneur named Gustave Eiffel and his team of two engineers (Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier) and architect, Stephen Sauvestre.
Koechlin and Nouguier actually had the idea for their tower in 1884 – four columns with latticework girders that were separated at the base but would come together to meet at the top – secured by more metal girders periodically. The architect, Sauvestre, was brought on board to make the project more agreeable in the public’s eye – shaping its aesthetic value.
The initial plan was a lot more decorative than the simplified end-result we’ve become accustomed to. This included a bulb-shaped design for the top and large glass-walled halls on each level. Initial designs also had a narrower tower with bridging girders being used more frequently going up the tower. It also lacked the iconic archway formed by the lowest girder. According to Eiffel, the curvature of the upright beams is mathematically determined to optimise the structure’s resistance to wind.
The project commenced in January 1887 and construction on the supports and foundations began on the 1st of July later that year. A high-level of mathematic engineering and efficiency was used to calculate the design and manufacturing of each of the 18000 pieces used in the tower’s construction. Each of these pieces was accurate to a tenth of a millimetre and then combined to form larger, five-metre pieces – which were held together by bolts.
These bolts were replaced by thermally assembled rivets later on. The benefit of thermally assembled rivets is that they contracted whilst they were cooling – guaranteeing a tight fit. It took four men to assemble a single rivet (one to heat it, one to hold it in place, another to shape the head and the final person to beat it with a sledgehammer). To put that into perspective – 2.5 million rivets were created and, yet, only a third of them were used directly on site.
The four foundations of the tower (which were positioned to align with the four points of the compass) were made from concrete that extended a few metres below ground – this is where the upright beams were slotted into. So they could work below the water – metal caissons (a type of watertight chamber) with compressed air injected into them were used.
In terms of the machinery, wooden scaffolding and small steam cranes were used – the latter of which was attached to the tower to make working at greater heights achievable. The foundations were completed in five months – which is long thought to be an impressive feat considering the technological shortcomings of the time.
March 31, 1889, marked the completion of the tower – only a little over a month shy of the beginning of the 1889 World’s Fair. It took two years, two months and five days to complete the tower – at the end of which Gustave Eiffel himself climbed up the 1710 steps and placed a French flag at the top.
Funnily enough, the Eiffel Tower was always meant to be a temporary placement and was scheduled to be scrapped in 1909. It was discovered that the tower possessed particular radiotelegraph capabilities, however, which were proved during the first world war years later as the tower was used as a station that relayed friendly communications and intercepted enemy ones.
Though when it was first completed it did receive its fair share of negativity, it is now one of the most iconic and recognisable structures in the world – something that will forever and uniquely be synonymous with Paris and France.
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Though the Eiffel Tower was impressively constructed using some old methods and technology – the modern innovations and developments we’ve had over the years when it comes to sheet metal machinery are truly incredible. ACRA Machinery is your one-stop-shop for all your new and used sheet metal machine solutions – including repair and maintenance services.
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