When did the Eiffel Tower open, and why was it ‘a truly tragic street lamp’?

The Eiffel Tower, celebrating its 126th anniversary, was not always revered as an icon of love and beauty. 

Charles Platiau/Reuters/File
Tourists walk under the Eiffel Tower in Paris during the holiday season in Paris December 9, 2014.

The iconic Eiffel Tower represents love and the romance of France. At a magnificent 1,063 ft. high, the tower showcases one of man’s greatest achievements.

Surprisingly, it was once revered as much as a street lamp.

When construction on the now beloved tower began in early 1887, critics believed the structure would mar Paris’ skyline and become a permanent eye sore rather than an architectural achievement. Set to serve as the entrance to the 1889 World Fair, the tower sparked protests. Artists, masons, and citizens of Paris felt the structure betrayed the city’s identity. Leon Bloy described the tower as “a truly tragic street lamp.”

Regardless, construction continued. The theme of the 1889 World Fair was the “Universal Exposition of the Products of Industry,” and its purpose was to highlight the significant industrial progress the country had made in the previous 100 years, a period of development following the French Revolution. As such, the tower seemed a fitting contribution.

The tower opened to the public on March 31, 1889, making today the 126th anniversary of the tower. In 1909, the World Fair’s 20-year lease on the land expired, almost resulting in the destruction of the building. However, due to its value as an antenna for radio transmission, it was allowed to stay.

Designed by Gustave Eiffel – who also designed the framework for the Statue of Liberty in New York – the tower is visited by an estimated 7 million people a year, with nearly 250 million people seeing the classic structure since its opening.

Architect Stephen Sauvestre’s role in the tower earned him the nickname “the magician of iron.” For more than four decades, the tower held the title of tallest structure in the world, losing that claim to fame to the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930.

Illustrator Floriane Marchix created a Google Doodle to commemorate the structure’s anniversary. The doodle features multiple artists precariously hanging from the Eiffel Tower’s bars and beams, painting and working on the historical edifice.

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