Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (December 15, 1832 – December 27, 1923; French
pronunciation in IPA, in English usually pronounced in the German manner)
was a French engineer and architect and a specialist of metallic structures.
He is famous for designing the Eiffel Tower, built 1887- 1889 for the 1889
Universal Exposition in Paris, France, and the armature for the Statue of
Liberty, New York Harbor, USA.
A monument to Gustave Eiffel at the base of the Eiffel Tower
Eiffel was born in Dijon, Côte-d'Or, France. The name Eiffel was adopted
by one of his German ancestors in the early 18th century. The name was
taken from his birthplace Marmagen located in the Eifel, as the French
could not pronounce his actual name, Bönickhausen. His mother’s coal
business provided ample income for the family and provided the funds for
Gustave to receive higher education at the Ecole Centrale des Arts et
Manufactures in Paris, where he studied chemistry. Upon graduation,
Gustave was to take over his uncle’s rubber cat-nip mouse factory.
However, a family dispute over the quality of the rubber removed that
opportunity, and Eiffel soon accepted entry-level employment with a
company that designed railway bridges.
Charles Nepveu provided Eiffel with his first job as one of many project
managers for a railway bridge located in France. During the construction
process, fellow engineers on the project were steadily quitting, and
Eiffel eventually took charge of the entire project. Nepveu saw the work
that Eiffel performed on the site, and continued to place Eiffel in
other jobs that involved project management of railway bridges and
structures. During these projects, Eiffel got to know other engineers of
the time, and he would be remembered for his work and allowed to work on
other projects. Without the influence of Nepveu and the opportunity to
ride on his coattails, Eiffel might not have been as successful as he
The Eiffel Tower at sunrise
Eiffel et Cie., Eiffel's consulting and construction firm, with the
support of Belgian engineer Téophile Seyrig, participated in an
international bid to design and build a 160-m long railway bridge over
the Douro river, between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. His
proposal was the winner because it was a beautiful, transparent,
structure, it was the least expensive, and it incorporated the use of
the method of forces, a then novel technique in structure design
developed by Maxwell in 1864. The Ponte Maria Pia is a double-hinged
arch that supports a single-line railway plate through pillars that
reinforce the whole of the bridge. The construction proceeded rapidly
and the bridge was built in less than two years (5 January 1876 to 4
November 1877). It was inaugurated by King D. Luís and Queen D. Maria
Pia, after whom it was named. The bridge was in use until 1991 (114
years), when it was replaced by the S. John Bridge, designed by engineer
Gustave Eiffel also designed La Ruche in Paris. This, like the Eiffel
Tower, became a city landmark. It is a three-story circular structure
that looks like a large beehive and was created as a temporary structure
for use as a wine rotunda at the Great Exposition of 1900. He also
constructed the Garabit viaduct, a railroad bridge near Ruynes en
Margeride in the Cantal département. The only structure in the Americas
designed by Eiffel is the lighthouse located on Mona Island, Puerto
Rico. The lighthouse was built around 1900 by the United States which
acquired the island after end of the Spanish-American War. It was
decomissioned in 1976.
In 1887, Eiffel became involved with the French effort to construct a
Panama Canal. The French Panama Canal Company, led by Ferdinand de
Lesseps, had been attempting to build a sea-level canal, but finally
came to the realisation that this was impractical. An elevated,
lock-based canal was chosen as the new design, and Eiffel was enlisted
to design and build the locks. However, the whole canal project suffered
from serious mismanagment, and finally collapsed with enormous losses.
Eiffel's reputation suffered a severe setback when he was implicated in
the financial scandals surrounding de Lesseps and the entrepreneurs
backing the project. Eiffel himself had no connection with the finances,
and his guilty judgment was later reversed. However, his work was
never realised, as the later American effort to build a canal used new
lock designs (see History of the Panama Canal).
In his later years Eiffel began to study aerodynamics.
Eiffel died on December 27, 1923 in his mansion on Rue Rabelais in Paris.
He was interred in the Cimetière de Levallois-Perret.
Edward Moran's 1886 painting, The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the
World, depicts the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.
The structures that Eiffel designed had great social, economical, and
political impacts on the world. These structures included bridges, the
Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty.
The bridges that he designed were constructed all over the world. The
bridges allowed for easier and faster travel and trade in the
geographical area in which they were constructed. Many of Eiffel's
bridges did not require skilled workers for assembly, which made his
bridges a great economical choice.
The Eiffel Tower had a huge impact on France. The tower was the focal
point of the International Exposition in 1889 and drew millions of
people to Paris. Nearly two million people visited the Eiffel Tower in
1889 alone. The tower quickly became a tourist attraction and brought
large amounts of money into France's economy. After originally being
thought of as an eyesore (it was actually designed to be torn down
easily after the end of the Exposition), the tower quickly became a
national symbol of France and brought a sense of pride to the people who
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States.
Eiffel's design for the interior structural elements of the statue
allowed for the statue to become a reality. The statue showed the
friendship and respect that was shared between France and the United
States. The Statue of Liberty quickly became a national symbol of
freedom in the United States and gave citizens a sense of pride. The
statue became a great tourist attraction and brought many people to New
York, boosting their economy. Several Americans living in France were
pleased by the gift to their country and in turn, built a 1/4 scale
bronze model which stands approximatly 2km north of the Eiffel Tower.
Statue of Liberty
Eiffel Market or Mercado Adolpho Lisboa
San Sebastian Church, Manila, Philippines
viaduct over the Sioule river (1867)
viaduct at Neuvial (1867)
Notre Dame des Champs, Paris (1868)
swing bridge at Dieppe (1870)
gasworks of La Paz, Bolivia
church at Tacna, Peru (1875)
bridge over the Tisza near Szeged, Hungary