Gustave Eiffel

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel
Personal information
Birth dateDecember 15, 1832
Birth placeDijon, Côte-d'Or, France
Date of deathDecember 27, 1923 (aged 91)
Place of deathRue Rabelais in Paris
Significant projectsEiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (December 15, 1832 – December 27, 1923 was a French structural engineer and entrepreneur and a specialist of metallic structures. He is famous for designing the Eiffel Tower, built 1887–1889 for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, France, and the armature for the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, U.S.

Early life

A monument to Gustave Eiffel at the base of the Eiffel Tower

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was born in Dijon, Côte-d'Or, France. The name Eiffel was adopted by his father in the early 19th century from his birthplace in the German Eifel region (in Marmagen), as the French could not pronounce his actual surname, Bönickhausen. During his youth, the two strongest influences on Eiffel were both successful chemists, his uncles Jean-Baptiste Mollerat and Michel Perret. Both men spent a lot of time with young Eiffel, filling his head with everything from chemistry and mining to religion and philosophy. At school, Eiffel was extremely smart, but not very studious. While attending high school at Lycée Royal, Eiffel was bored and felt that the classes were a waste of time. It was not until his last two years at school that Eiffel found his niche; not in engineering, but in history and literature. Eiffel's study habits improved and he graduated with a degree in both science and humanities. Eiffel went on to attend college at Sainte Barbe College in Paris, in order to prepare for the difficult entrance exams into The École Polytechnique. The École Polytechnique was, and still is, the most prestigious engineering institution in France. Ultimately, Eiffel was denied admission to The École Polytechnique, but instead attended the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris where he studied chemistry, receiving the equivalent of a Master of Science degree in 1855. École Centrale was a liberal private school that is now known as one of the top engineering schools in Europe. His mother's coal business provided ample income for the family and provided the funds for Gustave to receive his university education. The year 1855 was the same year that Paris hosted the first World's Fair. After graduation, Eiffel's uncle offered him a job at his vinegar works in Dijon, France. However, a family dispute removed that opportunity, and Eiffel soon accepted entry-level employment with a company that designed railway bridges.

Charles Nepveu provided Eiffel with his first job as one of many project managers for a railway bridge located in Bordeaux, France. During the construction process, fellow engineers on the project were steadily quitting, and Eiffel eventually took charge of the entire project. Neveu saw the work that Eiffel performed on the site, and continued to place Eiffel in other jobs that involved project management of railway bridges and structures. During these projects, Eiffel got to know other engineers of the time, and he would be remembered for his work and allowed to work on other projects. Without the influence of Neveu and his unwavering support, Eiffel might not have been as successful as he would later become for many of his structures.


The Eiffel Tower at sunrise
Cathedral 'Saint Mark of Arica'

Eiffel et Cie., Eiffel's consulting and construction firm, with the support of Belgian engineer Téophile Seyrig, participated in an international bid to design and build a 160-m long railway bridge over the Douro river, between Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. His proposal was the winner because it was a beautiful, transparent structure, it was the least expensive, and it incorporated the use of the method of forces, a then novel technique in structure design developed by Maxwell in 1864. The Ponte Maria Pia is a double-hinged arch that supports a single-line railway plate through pillars that reinforce the whole of the bridge. The construction proceeded rapidly and the bridge was built in less than two years (January 5, 1876 to November 4, 1877). It was inaugurated by King D. Luís and Queen D. Maria Pia, after whom it was named. The bridge was in use until 1991 (114 years), when it was superseded by the S. John Bridge, designed by engineer Edgar Cardoso. Eiffel built a number of cast iron railway bridges in the Massif Central, such as the viaducts at Rouzat and Bouble. They are still in use by local trains and were built in the late 1860s.

Gustave Eiffel also designed La Ruche in Paris, France. This, like the Eiffel Tower, became a city landmark. It is a three-storey circular structure that looks like a large beehive and was created as a temporary structure for use as a wine rotunda at the Great Exposition of 1900. The French translation of La Ruche is "the beehive". He also constructed the Garabit viaduct, a railway bridge near Ruynes en Margeride in the Cantal département. In the Americas, Eiffel designed the central railway station in Santiago de Chile (1897) and the Mona Island Light located near Puerto Rico. The lighthouse was built around 1900 by the United States which acquired the island after the end of the Spanish-American War. It was decommissioned in 1976.

Rouzat viaduct

In 1887, Eiffel became involved with the French effort to construct a Panama Canal. The French Panama Canal Company, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, had been attempting to build a sea-level canal, but finally came to the realisation that this was impractical. An elevated, lock-based canal was chosen as the new design, and Eiffel was enlisted to design and build the locks. However, the whole canal project suffered from serious mismanagement, and finally collapsed with enormous losses. Eiffel's reputation suffered a severe setback when he was implicated in the financial scandals surrounding de Lesseps and the entrepreneurs backing the project. Eiffel himself had no connection with the finances, and his guilty judgment was later reversed. However, his work was never realised, as the later American effort to build a canal used new lock designs.

After retirement he researched and developed new ideas through practical use of the Eiffel Tower. The tower enabled him to make advancements in aerodynamics, meteorology, and radio-broadcasting. He built a wind tunnel at the base of the tower for his aerodynamic research, had meteorological equipment placed in various locations on the tower, and suggested to the military to have radio equipment installed on the top of the tower. Within the following years the tower would continue to serve as a permanent radio tower and eventually used for television broadcasting.

Eiffel died on December 27, 1923 in his mansion on Rue Rabelais in Paris, France. He was interred in the Cimetière de Levallois-Perret.

Gustave Eiffel was also known to travel to places like Spain, Portugal the Philippines,etc., designing buildings and other structures during his visits. He became extremely popular around the world for the famous tower we all know as the Eiffel Tower.

Edward Moran's 1886 painting, The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, depicts the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.


The Industrial Revolution played an important role in Gustave Eiffel's life. People were traveling across the world, new technologies and materials became available, and countries were industrializing. Much of Eiffel's work was affected by one or more of these conditions brought by the Industrial Revolution.

The condition that had the most impact on Eiffel's work was transportation. People around the world were demanding safe passages across rivers and were in need of bridges. Building these bridges is how Eiffel gained a reputation as an engineer, which allowed him to pursue larger and more difficult projects later in life. The bridges that he designed were constructed all over the world. The bridges allowed for easier and faster travel and trade in the geographical area in which they were constructed. Many of Eiffel's bridges did not require skilled workers for assembly, which made his bridges a great economical choice.

The Eiffel Tower had a huge impact on France. The tower was the focal point of the Exposition Universelle (1889) and drew millions of people to Paris. Nearly two million people visited the Eiffel Tower in 1889 alone. The tower quickly became a tourist attraction and brought large amounts of money into France's economy. After originally being thought of as an eyesore (it was actually designed to be torn down easily after the end of the Exposition), the tower quickly became a national symbol of France and brought a sense of pride to the people who live there. In 1910 Gustave Eiffel accomplished extraordinary outcomes in determining the wind resistance of a flat plate; Gustave used the Eiffel Tower as his test platform.

El Palacio de Hierro, Orizaba, Veracruz, México

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States. Eiffel's design for the interior structural elements of the statue allowed for the statue to become a reality. The statue showed the friendship and respect that was shared between France and the United States. The Statue of Liberty quickly became a national symbol of freedom in the United States and gave citizens a sense of pride. The statue became a great tourist attraction and brought many people to New York, boosting the economy. Several Americans living in France were pleased by the gift to their country and in turn, built a ¼ scale bronze model which stands approximately 2 km north of the Eiffel Tower.

With all the opportunities the Industrial Revolution brought with it, it also had many challenges. Just as Eiffel had the opportunity to work on more projects in different locations, so did other engineers. Competition for projects was extremely high and the reputation of the engineer played a major role for obtaining projects. Yet another challenge during Eiffel's career was the introduction of new construction materials. Since the new materials had not been proven in projects, engineers took a risk in using them. Many of the bridges Eiffel had built were made from steel which Eiffel had helped pioneer. With the thriving Industrial world of the time. Some of his advancements included: designing a system of hydraulic presses which allowed workers to set bridge foundations deep under water, creating sturdy yet lightweight "web-like" trusses and arches to withstand high winds, using wrought iron for bridge construction because its flexibility could withstand high winds, curving the edges of piers to create more stable bases, and the development of "launching" which is a way to more easily move pieces of structures into place. Eiffel's ingenuity and brilliance allowed him to design and build some of the world's most famous structures.

The 'Casa de Fierro' in the Peruvian jungle Konak Pier in Izmir, Turkey, designed by Gustave Eiffel Truong Tien Bridge Eiffel bridge in Caminha

Buildings and structures

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Estación Central (main railway station), Santiago, Chile
  • Budapest Nyugati Pályaudvar (Western railway station), Budapest, Hungary
  • Konak Pier, Izmir, Turkey
  • Nice Observatory
  • Palacio de Hierro, Orizaba Veracruz, Mexico
  • Paradis Latin, Paris
  • San Sebastian Church, Manila, Philippines
  • Statue of Liberty
  • The General Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • The Market, Dijon, France
  • Church of Santa Barbara, Santa Rosalia, Mexico


  • Birsbrücke, Münchenstein, Switzerland which collapsed on 14 June in 1891 killing over 70 people. See Munchenstein rail disaster.
  • Bridge over the Schelde in Temse, in Belgium
  • Garabit Viaduct
  • Garonne River Bridge near Bordeaux was Eiffel's first project at age 25.
  • Long Bien bridge, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Maria Pia Bridge (Porto Viaduct)
  • Railway Bridge near Constitución, Chile
  • Souleuvre Viaduct
  • The Eiffel Bridge in Viana do Castelo's Marina was a Gustav Eiffel's project from 1878.
  • The Eiffel Bridge in Zrenjanin that was disassembled in the 1960s and is being rebuilt currently.
  • The Railway Bridge over the Coura river in Caminha, Portugal.
  • The road (D50) bridge over the River Lay at Lavaud in the Vendee, France
  • Truong Tien Bridge is reflected in the Huong river, Hue, Viet Nam.
  • Quezon Bridge in Quiapo District, Manila, Philippines

Other works

'Traian Hotel' from Iasi, is Gustave Eiffel's link to Romania
  • Combier Distillery, Saumur (Loire Valley), France
  • Viaduct over the Sioule river (1867)
  • Viaduct at Neuvial (1867)
  • Notre Dame des Champs, Paris (1868)
  • Swing bridge at Dieppe (1870)
  • Gasworks of La Paz, Bolivia
  • La Paz Train Station, La Paz, Bolivia (now Bus Station of La Paz)
  • Church at Tacna, Peru (1875)
  • Church in Arica, Chile
  • Ruhnu Lighthouse at Ruhnu island, Estonia (1877)
  • "Traian Hotel" from Iasi, is Gustave Eiffel's link to RomaniaBolivar Bridge, at Arequipa, Peru
  • Fenix Theatre, at Arequipa, Peru
  • San Camilo Market, at Arequipa, Peru
  • Church at Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur
  • Bridge over the Tisza near Szeged, Hungary
  • Farol de São Thomé in Campos, Brazil
  • The framework of the Western Train station in Budapest, Hungary
  • Great bridge over the Begej in Zrenjanin, Serbia, built in 1904, disassembled and replaced by concrete bridge in 1969
  • Mona Island Lighthouse at Mona Island, Puerto Rico
  • Plaza del Mercado (local produce market) at Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
  • Bridge in Trujillo Alto (still there but not used anymore), Puerto Rico
  • Puente Quezon (Quezon Bridge) over Pasig River, Manila, Philippines
  • House of Steel in Maputo, Mozambique
  • Ajfel Bridge On Skenderija Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Dome (Salon Royale) of Hotel Negresco, Nice, France
  • Pabellon de la Rosa Piriapolis, Uruguay
  • Mercado Municipal, Manaus, Brazil
  • Aérodynamique EIFFEL (wind tunnel), Paris (Auteuil), France
The Palácio de Ferro is thought to be designed by Eiffel.

Not Proved

  • (Bridge over the Cuyuni River, southern Venezuela)
  • Santa Efigênia Viaduct, São Paulo, Brazil (1913)
  • Santa Justa Lift (Carmo Lift), in Lisbon, Portugal (1901)
  • Dam on Great Backa Canal, Becej, Vojvodina, Serbia (1900)
  • Malleco Viaduct, Chile (1890)
  • Palácio de Ferro, Angola (1890)

Unrealized projects

  • Trinity Bridge, Saint Petersburg—Eiffel entered a project into the contest, but his project was not realized.