A handful of examples appear below; the list is rotated periodically for your reading pleasure. One of the most recognizable structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower, located in Paris, turns 125 this week. French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel began work on the Eiffel Tower in 1884, in preparation for the 1889 World Exposition in Paris. Originally published on April 4, 2014 5:22 pm One of the world’s most famous structures — the Eiffel Tower — turned 125 years old this week.
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Amidst the flashy dashy, bling bling materialist, candy coated I wanna be a thug hip hop, the BUNKS’ call to action couldn’t come at a better time.
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But if France’s euphoria in the last years of the 19th century appears heightened, the impression is perhaps due to a backdrop of travail.
For the Franco-Prussian War, in which the Imperial Army of Napoleon III was smashed in a matter of weeks, was not merely a military defeat. The war led to the loss of France’s large eastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, with a population of nearly a million and a half, economically vital mines and industries, and the great city of Strasbourg.
Moreover, the settlement that President Adolphe Thiers made with the Germans in February 1871 involved an enormous and debilitating indemnity of five billion francs, or about one billion dollars. It also stipulated that German troops would occupy the country’s eastern region until the sum had been paid. Parisians in particular had borne much of the brunt of the war, undergoing a five-month siege during which they were reduced to eating cats, rats, and the animals in their zoos. No sooner had peace been concluded than the revolt of the Paris Commune broke out on March 18. A political insurrection in the image of those that had shaken Paris sporadically for a century, the Commune revolt was sparked when President Thiers suspended payment to national guardsmen — the only income of many families because of severe unemployment at the time — and ended a moratorium on rents and bills. Moreover, Parisians felt increasingly isolated and misunderstood when the National Assembly moved to Versailles to escape the seething resentment in the capital.
The national guardsmen of Montmartre and Belleville, on the north side of Paris, refused to yield their weapons, including over 200 cannons, when ordered to disarm. They proclaimed the independent, self-governing Commune of Paris, and for two months the city was ravaged by fire and divided by barricades as 30,000 Communards held out against 130,000 government troops. When Marshal MacMahon’s army finally quelled the revolt after bloody street fighting, nearly 20,000 Parisians had died at the hands of their compatriots. As the stunned city began to put itself back together, it first had to overcome its own divisive tendencies.
Of the National Assembly elected in 1871, nearly 400 of its 650 members were monarchists dedicated to ending the country’s democratic form of government as soon as they could decide who would be king. Unable to choose among the Comte de Chambord, the Comte de Paris and a possible Bonaparte, however, the Assembly reluctantly gave birth to the ThirdRepublic. France’s third stab at democracy since the revolution of 1789 came about not due to any real consensus that it was the best form of government, but only because, as President Thiers said later, “It divided us least.” Inevitably, a period of political confusion began — there would be 12 governments over the next eight years alone — but the Republic survived.


Ironically, the nation’s most conservative elements, the peasantry and the haute bourgeoisie, would preserve it against the right-wing monarchists. First of all it paid off the indemnity much more rapidly than anyone had foreseen, thanks to the enthusiastic response of French investors to the government’s bond issues. By July 1871, France had paid Germany enough for German troops to be evacuated from five of 21 occupied eastern departments. The remaining soldiers left in September 1873, a year ahead of schedule; by 1875 France had already balanced its budget. In 1879 the government felt secure enough to make “The Marseillaise” the national anthem, and to move the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate back to Paris from Versailles. National income nearly doubled in the four decades following 1870; industrial production tripled and foreign trade increased 75 percent. To the chagrin of German geologists who in 1871 had laid out the boundaries of Lorraine in such a way as to annex all known iron deposits, France discovered it had the largest iron vein in Europe on its side of the border, reserves estimated at almost one-fifth of the world’s total supply. During the 1880s, France gradually conquered a colonial empire in Indochina and North and Central Africa that was to become second only to Great Britain’s in terms of population and size. The colonies would also be an enormous new market for French investment and industrial output. With democracy firmly established and the nation once again a prosperous world power, the government began looking forward to commemorating the centennial of the French Revolution.
As early as 1878, several cabinet ministers were gestating the idea of a purely national industrial fair to be held in 1889. France was already considered with suspicion by the rest of monarchical Europe as a regicidal upstart, a hotbed of bloody republicanism. It would be best, some timorous officials argued, to mark the centennial en famille, and not disturb neighboring crowned heads with an international celebration of revolution. Besides, they feared that invitations to exhibit at a world’s fair held to commemorate 1789 might be met with contemptuous rebuffs from the monarchies. Prime Minister Jules Ferry, an outspoken, energetic believer in democracy who as minister of education had made free secular schooling compulsory, and as prime minister had been one of the chief promoters of France’s colonial expansion, thought otherwise.
He favored a world’s fair as a vehicle for demonstrating France’s newly recovered place in the sun, touting her industrial might, commercial success and engineering savvy.
He ultimately prevailed, and on November 8, 1884, President Jules Grevy signed a brief decree ordering that “A Universal Exposition of the Products of Industry shall be opened in Paris May 5, 1889, and closed October 31 following.” Neither Grevy nor even the audacious Ferry could foresee that this would be the biggest, most varied, and most spectacularly successful world’s fair ever held until that time. Guest Joseph Harriss, author of “The Tallest Tower: Eiffel And The Belle Epoque” and Paris correspondent for The American Spectator.
HOBSON: This week marks the 125th birthday of one of the most iconic structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower.
It's about 1,000 feet tall, about twice as tall as the replica in Las Vegas, and construction wrapped up on March 31st, 1889, that's 125 years ago this week. The Eiffel Tower stood as the tallest manmade structure in the world for 41 years, until the construction of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930.
HOBSON: Well, there was a big celebration five years ago, when the tower marked its 120th birthday.
You've probably heard that there's been a couple of weeks of important elections, and that has taken up all the media space so that there has been no visible celebration of this anniversary. The date was not chosen just by chance because 1889, you can imagine, was the centenary of the French Revolution, 1789. They decided to mark that anniversary by having a great World's Fair, and to mark the World's Fair, they wanted a 1,000-foot tower.
HOBSON: And at the time, the tallest structure in the world, I believe, was the Washington Monument, right?


The 19th century was the great period of engineering, thanks to the railways, thanks to lots of discoveries in metallurgy, and so beginning in the 1830s, engineers decided they would like to do a 1,000-foot tower. HARRIS: Gustave Eiffel was born in Dijon, where they make the mustard, and he had a career as an engineer building railway bridges. He went on from France to build bridges all over the world, and with these bridges, which were often very high, he had to worry about the wind factor. And that's why he decided to make it a bit the way he had been making his bridges, with wrought iron girders, which would let the wind pass through. HOBSON: And the original idea was that this tower would be able to withstand the kind of winds that never happen in Paris.
Yeah he - it was - he built in a big safety factor, and he did all this of course without the aid of computers, just with pencil and paper. And that was one of the advantages of having an iron tower: it could be unbolted after 20 years and taken down if need be.
He started this by simply dropping objects from the center of his tower to the ground and measuring the time it took to get to the ground. They he built a wind tunnel at the base of the tower and started doing aeronautical experiments with scale model aircraft.
Another came early in the 20th century, when radio was just getting going, and he turned that into a radio antenna that became very useful to the French army, for example, during World War I. They were able to intercept the German messages that gave away the position of German troops. So these were things that made the Eiffel Tower useful, and so they decided to keep it after all. Let's listen to a little sound from a documentary called "The History of the Eiffel Tower" right here.
Under the occupation, the idea predominated among all the French to know that one day one would be free to climb up the Eiffel Tower.
When allied troops finally liberated Paris, this handful of free Frenchmen celebrated by climbing the Eiffel Tower and unfurling the French tricolor flag. Down below, citizens spat and cursed at the fleeing Germans, but from the pinnacle of the tower, liberty, equality and fraternity reclaimed its mantle of glory. HARRIS: After the occupation of Paris, Hitler visited Paris, which of course was a great jewel for him, and he wanted to go up on the Eiffel Tower and gaze down upon the city of Paris, which he'd conquered. Finally he had to do with going across the river to the Trocadero, and he had himself photographed with the Eiffel Tower behind him.
HARRIS: Well, for him, he used that picture of him standing in front of the Eiffel Tower as part of his propaganda.
Joseph, what does the Eiffel Tower mean to you after all these years of studying it and writing a book about it? It represents the way that part of the human race felt about itself at a particular point in its time. Progress seemed to be almost infinite at that point, and people just wanted to throw up a 1,000-foot tower and admire it. And to me that's what it represents, is a great pride, the hubris and even the joie de vivre of people in the late 19th century, which of course was known as the Belle Epoque.



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