The City of Paris gave Gustave Eiffel a concession that allowed the tower to stand for 20 years until 1909. That year, the ownership would revert to the City of Paris and the tower would be dismantled. Why the Eiffel Tower narrowly escaped being dismantled? And how the Eiffel Tower was saved? This article will tell you everything!
The Eiffel Tower: a giant Meccano
The fact that the Eiffel Tower looks like a giant Meccano is no stranger to that.
Indeed, the original contest rules specified that the tower should be easily disassembled.
This explains a number of rumours, including the secret plan the Mayor of Montreal had in mind for the Montreal World Fair in 1967.
In 1963, mayor Jean Drapeau wished to have the Eiffel Tower as part of the Expo 67 and apparently convinced President Charles de Gaulle about the secret plan.
The Eiffel Tower would have been dismantled, moved piece by piece on a boat to Canada before being re-assembled in the heart of Montreal.
The project did not take place not only because the company that managed the Eiffel Tower feared it would never come back to Paris but because the official request to the French government has fallen on deaf ears.
But let’s come back to 1909.
How the Eiffel Tower was saved?
The clock is ticking for Gustave Eiffel’s tower.
Aware of the risk of demolition, Gustave Eiffel had imagined since the beginning that the tower could be useful to support scientific advances.
Being a symbol of progress was not enough to save the tower.
That’s why Gustave Eiffel multiplied experiments that he chose to fund in part.
Science would justify the need to keep the tower in place!
Science to the rescue!
As soon as 1889, he authorised Eleuthère Mascart, director of the French national meteorological service, to set up a little weather observation station.
In 1910, German physicist Theodor Wulf measured radiant energy at the top and bottom of the tower.
He found more than he expected, incidentally discovering the existence of cosmic rays.
But it is the sudden demand for a suitable platform for radio purposes that saved the tower from demolition.
In the 1890s, a new technique in signal transmission emerged.
It was called wireless telegraphy or TSF (transmission sans fil) in French.
On the 5th November 1898, Eugène Ducretet established the very first radio contact in Morse code between the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon, four kilometres away.
A year later, radio transmission was enabled between the Eiffel Tower and London.
This is when military authorities became interested in the newly emerging radio transmission technology.
In 1903 Eiffel put the Tower at the disposition of engineer and officer Gustave Ferrié and financed the installation of an antenna stand at the tower’s summit linked by a cable to the Champ de Mars below.
The following year Ferrié succeeded to establish communication with eastern France 400 kilometres away, then with the French naval base at Bizerte in Tunisia.
In 1908, he reached out to a 6,000 kilometres range.
In 1909 a permanent station was built underneath the Champ de Mars.
The Eiffel Tower became a strategic location as a transmitter and receiver for radio broadcasts.
The Eiffel Tower was saved.
And Gustave Eiffel was granted an extension to his concession for another 70 years, starting on 1st January 1910.
The Eiffel Tower during WWI
Interestingly the Eiffel Tower would become very useful during the First World War.
It’s from the Tower’s summit that many German messages were intercepted.
The first messages from 1914 seriously hindered the German advance on Paris and contributed to the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne.
Indeed, in 1914, during the Battle of the Marne, the Tower’s radiotelegraphic station learnt that General von der Marwitz, Commander in the German Army, was facing difficulties and as a result was halting his advance.
This crucial information enabled the French army to organise a victorious counter-attack that involved the famous Taxis de la Marne.
In March 1918, a coded message was intercepted and then deciphered over three days of hard work by Georges Painvin.
Its contents contributed to avoiding the German attack and would eventually change the course of the war and lead to a decisive victory by the Allies.
The advent of television
In the late 1920s, the beginnings of television in France took place at the Eiffel Tower when a first test was conducted for the transmission of animated images over a long distance.
Then with the creation of the General Television Company in 1931, an emitter was installed at the top of the tower in 1935.
It is clear that on the eve of the second world war the idea of the tower’s demolition was no longer relevant.
Read more about the Eiffel Tower in French on our blog Mon Grand-Est!