The literature on the Eiffel Tower is wide-ranging and multidisciplinary, echoing the character and history of the 300-meter iron structure itself: a singular and controversial monument with both a past and a present. Not meant to last beyond a few decades, the Tower still looms over Paris. It was the tallest structure on earth when constructed on the Champ de Mars in the French capital as the centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which marked the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. Reviled at first, it is revered today. During the post-WWII decades, it became the central icon and symbol of Paris and eventually of France tout court, and is today one of the most widely recognized and visited attractions in the world. The Tower was made a Monument historique in 1964 and named part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (“Paris, Banks of the Seine”) in 1991. The publications enumerated and glossed in what follows align with the Tower’s complexity: they are drawn from art, architectural, cultural, economic, political, social, and technology history as well as biography and semiology.
General Accounts: Primary Literature
This section contains the first and most influential writings on the Eiffel Tower, including the writings of the engineer Gustave Eiffel himself and by the science popularizer Gaston Tissandier. Early first-hand accounts of the experience of ascending the Tower, those by Eugène Raboul and E. M. de Vogüé, are also included, as are the published encomia of an insider who loved the iron structure, Max de Nansouty. The only 20th-century authors included are those whose texts comment on primary materials: 1) the indispensable historian of the Eiffel Tower, Bertrand Lemoine, who prefaced the reprint of one of Eiffel’s enormous 1900 volumes, and 2) Amélie Granet, the compiler of the 1989 guide to the fonds Eiffel, the archive at the Musée d’Orsay.
Eiffel, Gustave. La Tour de Trois Cents Mètres: Texte. Paris: Société des Imprimeries Lemercier, 1900a.
Eiffel’s highly technical eight-part account is almost 400 pages long. It details the planning and building of the structure. Questions of its cost and its potential for scientific utility (e.g., in the realm of meteorology) are also considered in detail. It was published on 1 June 1900 in a limited edition of 500 copies on wove paper, just at the moment of the Tower’s second starring role in an Exposition Universelle.
Eiffel, Gustave. La Tour de Trois Cents Mètres: Planches. Paris: Société des Imprimeries Lemercier, 1900b.
Complete reprint of the large-scale volume, with introductory text (in four languages) by Bertrand Lemoine.
Granet, Amélie. Musée d’Orsay: Catalogue sommaire illustré du fonds Eiffel. Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1989.
This is the essential guide to the rich archival corpus that is a fundamental point of departure for Eiffel Tower research. Granet’s volume lists and categorizes the hundreds of documents, letters, published materials, art works, and other objects given to the Musée d’Orsay by the Eiffel family in 1981. The materials are accessible at the Orsay to researchers by appointment.
Lemoine, Bertrand. “Gustave Eiffel’s Three-Hundred-Metre Tower: An Accomplishment.” In The Eiffel Tower. By Bertrand Lemoine, 7–11. Cologne: Taschen, 2016.
The fifty-three double-page spreads illustrate every detail of the complicated prefabricated iron structure by bringing together the 4,300 or so original plans that guided the building of the Tower and its interior layout. Lemoine’s essay provides an overview of the two-volume publication and Eiffel’s ostensible motives for preparing it, followed by five helpful thematic narratives: Mr. Eiffel’s Tower, The Artists’ Protest, The Construction of the Tower, Public Success, and The Scientist.
Nansouty, Max de. La Tour Eiffel de 300 mètres à l’Exposition Universelle de 1889: Historique et description. Paris: Bernard Tiguol Ed., 1889.
A forceful endorsement of every aspect of the Tower, which Nansouty calls “progress materialized.” The author was a member of the Press Committee of the Exposition of 1889.
Reboul, Eugène. Souvenir de mon ascension à la Tour Eiffel. Paris: L. Warner, 1889.
This is a first-person account of a journey up into the Tower by an enthusiast utterly besotted by the new structure. His exciting ascension is absent fatigue, shaking, vertigo, and danger. He was especially specific about and intoxicated by the Tower’s lighting. He admires its aesthetics as well (p. 28): “No-one will contradict us if we affirm that there is more merit, and more art, in the 300-metre tower than in 9/10 of the works on exhibit in the Salon.”
Tissandier, Gaston. La Tour Eiffel de trois cents mètres. Paris: G. Masson, 1889.
Tissandier, an influential science journalist and editor of La Nature, covers Eiffel’s biography and the origin of the Tower briefly before shifting to highly technical topics: foundations, hydraulic presses, ironwork, scaffolding and cranes, staircases and elevators, and the campanile and lighthouse. The final section, “What is the Use of the Eiffel Tower?,” emphasizes its contribution to constructive ironwork, the service it will render to strategy in wartime, telegraphic communication, meteorology, astronomy, urban illumination, and the enlargement of human horizons. Translated into English by Gaston Tissandier as The Eiffel Tower: A Description of the Monument, Its Construction, Its Machinery, Its Object and Its Utility (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1889).
Vogüé, E. M. de. Remarques sur l’Exposition du Centenaire. Paris: E. Plon, Norrit et Cie., 1889.
The Vicomte de Vogüé, man of letters, diplomat, and Orientalist, wrote an admiring account of the choice and launch of Eiffel’s Tower, which included the first great account of the panoramic view from the 300-meter Tower at night. His description of the intensity and restlessness of the Tower’s own illuminations is unparalleled in period literature.
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