The Eiffel Tower is perhaps the most famous tall building in the world, an icon of its own age and ours. It was the dream-child of French engineer Gustave Eiffel, along with Budapest railway station, the Douro Bridge in Portugal and the interior skeleton of the Statue of Liberty. In this new biography of Eiffel, the first for many years, David I. Harvie reveals the determination, struggle and drama which characterised the life of this talented man.
The Eiffel Tower was proposed as the centrepiece for the World Exhibition of 1889, yet the moment the plans were unveiled they were greeted with a storm of protests. An influential Artists' Protest was vocal in its criticism; Eiffel became involved in an extended argument with Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera; and satirists had a field day. Robust in his defence of the tower, Eiffel had the last laugh: when completed, the tower became an instant favourite and a moneyspinner. Yet, at the moment of his triumph, scandal beckoned. While the tower was being built Eiffel had signed contracts for the biggest and riskiest project of his life - the construction of the locks for the Panama Canal. In 1889 the canal company was plunged into liquidation due to mismanagement. Eiffel was charged with breach of trust and swindling and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Although cleared on appeal, the engineer from Dijon never quite recovered from the personal indignity of the scandal. The man who had designed and built aqueducts and bridges throughout the world turned his back on engineering and embarked on an equally illustrious career in the study of aerodynamics.