If you had a head for heights in 1886, you
would not have been without a job. If you were American, you could have helped with
the construction of the Statue of Liberty. An Englishman, Tower Bridge; but in
France only Frenchmen could work on the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Today
we tend to take these iconic landmarks for granted, but 123 years ago, they
were modern marvels. This fact is not lost on Jill Jonnes in her highly
detailed and beautifully written work, Eiffell’s Tower.
The 1063 foot tower was the tallest
construction in the world until the Chrysler Building in 1930. Even so, it was
the tallest building in France until the Millau Viaduct was built in 2004. The brainchild
of Gustave Eiffel, it was intended to be the focus and centre piece of the 1889
World Fair at Paris; and it was. It did not start out that way however. Many
were the critics and detractors particularly those who lived within its
environs. Gustave Eiffell had to personally indemnify many in order to get the
construction started. One demand of the authorizing committee was that all
labour and material had to be French. This was fine until they needed
elevators. The only company that could propel an elevator up over a 1000 feet,
and bring it back safely, was the Otis Elevator Company of America. Jonnes
description of the testing of the ‘fail-safe braking’ is breath taking. Eiffell’s insistence of all things French,
caused great consternation between the two companies, resulting in litigation. America
however, could not have been too unhappy with Mr Eiffell as they used his Chief
Engineer Maurice Koechlin to design and build the internal structure of the
Statue of Liberty.
One could be forgiven for thinking that 354
pages about a cast iron tower would be of interest only to civil engineers: but
one would be very wrong. Ms Jonnes, has interwoven the practicalities of tower
building with intricate details of the lives of celebrities who visited the World
Fair and Tower. One is constantly intrigued by these snippets of information.
Eiffle’s Tower is a book that keeps on
giving. The pace of interest never slackens even to the last chapter where
Jonnes winds up the stories of the featured celebs.
I highly recommend this work, and will seek
out more of Jill Jonne’s work.