When you hear the word “Paris,” the first thing that comes to mind is almost certainly the Eiffel Tower. But did you know many Parisians never wanted it built, and protested its construction vehemently? Or that even the French government wanted it torn down just 20 years after its 1889 inauguration?
Yet still it stands today, as perhaps the best-known manmade structure in the world. But the journey that’s kept the tower standing has been far from easy — or expected. Let these surprising Eiffel Tower facts and photos reveal everything you never knew about this supremely iconic Parisian landmark:
The world of course associates the creation of the Eiffel Tower with Gustave Eiffel. However, it was actually designed by two of his employees, Émile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin, whose original drawing for the tower appears above.
In fact, Eiffel showed little interest in the two men's design. So, Koechlin (top left) and Nouguier (top right) asked another Eiffel employee, Stephen Sauvestre (bottom), for help. After the three created a new design, Eiffel signed off on it.
But even though the contract was signed and the deal was done, a large and vocal community of Parisians strongly opposed the tower's construction.
Led by architect Charles Garnier (above), this "Committee of Three Hundred" believed the tower was an aesthetic abomination.
They published a petition in Le Temps newspaper, writing that "this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower" would dominate Paris "like a gigantic black smokestack" and that the city's other monuments would "disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years [...] we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal."
...which is actually extremely light, given the tower's height of 984 feet. This is of course due to the tower's remarkably efficient design, which used as few parts as necessary to keep the tower erect.
It was built this way because the designers knew that something so tall would have to be able to stand up to the elements, namely wind, heat, and cold.
Thus, the tower's design allows it to be extremely adaptable. The tower sways by as much as three inches in the wind and expands and shrinks by as much as seven inches in the heat and cold, respectively.
Despite braving the elements themselves (not to mention unprecedented heights), the tower's 300 construction workers only saw one of their colleagues die due to an onsite accident -- a very low rate, given the circumstances.
With so many men on the job, construction moved at a brisk pace, and the tower was completed in late March, 1889.
Upon completion, it became the tallest tower in the world by an unprecedented margin, at just under twice the size of its closest competitor. That magnitude of difference between the world's tallest and second tallest structures has never even been approached at any point in history before or since.
While secrets like the apartment remained hidden for many, many years, the tower as a whole immediately fulfilled its purpose of creating a very public spectacle.
This began with the very reason the tower was constructed in the first place: to be the centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, a world's fair commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.
After the 1889 Exposition Universelle, the tower remained its hold on the public imagination, attracting all manner of people interested to explore its possibilities.
In 1898, the Lumiere brothers, often credited as the inventors of the motion picture, rode up the Eiffel Tower's elevator, filming all the way (see a still from that clip above and watch the full clip here.
In 1901, pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont made a daring flight from the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud into the city and around the Eiffel Tower. Many credit this flight with kickstarting the early 20th century's airship craze.
Since Santos-dumont, many brave pilots have performed stunts involving the Eiffel Tower, including Robert Moriarty, who flew a Beechcraft Bonanza single-engine plane underneath the tower at high speeds in 1984 with a camera rolling from the cockpit the whole time (still above, full video here).
Despite Reichelt's death, the tower did not scare daredevils away. In 1926, a journalist named Pierre Labric rode from the first floor (where Reichelt jumped from, 187 feet above the ground) down to the base on his bicycle (above).
And while the tower has always attracted the daring, it's also attracted the downright audacious. For one, in 1925, infamous conman Victor Lustig "sold" the tower for scrap metal -- twice.
Pretending to be a government official and taking advantage of the tower's very public state of disrepair at the time, Lustig convinced two different sets of wealthy scrap metal dealers, one month apart, that he'd been authorized to sell the tower for parts. Both times, he evaded capture.
More so than any other stunts (be it with planes, bikes, or parachutes), these dazzling fireworks and light displays have become the tower's great source of spectacle nowadays, at least since the tower was taken over by a management company in 1986. From that point until the present, the tower has enjoyed a long period of good health and popularity.
But before that management company took over -- and especially during France's tumultuous first half of the 20th century -- the tower had many close calls.
For starters, while the areas in and around Paris saw plenty of action during World War I (see the wartime guard at the tower above), the tower made it through unscathed. It even housed a radio transmitter that jammed German communications, helping the Allies achieve victory at the First Battle of the Marne.
However, the tower's fate was far more uncertain during World War II. When Hitler and the Nazis (above) stormed Paris, they took control of the tower, closing it to the public, cutting the elevator cables, and raising a swastika flag.
By 1944, however, the tide of the war had turned against the Nazis and they were losing their grip on Paris. Desperate to see it destroyed if he couldn't control it himself, Hitler ordered Paris' German commander, Dietrich von Choltitz (above), to demolish the tower
(along with many of the rest of the city's major landmarks).
Von Choltitz refused, thus saving the tower and Paris. He would later claim that he loved the city too much and that he knew Hitler was, by that point, insane.
After von Choltitz and the Germans were ousted, several groups raced to be the first to restore the French flag atop the tower (above). The first man to the top was a fire marshal who quickly made a flag by gathering three white bed sheets, dying one red, another blue, and then stitching the three together.
Even after World War II and the tower's closest brush with death, there were a few close calls.
In 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle (above) negotiated a deal with the mayor of Montreal to dismantle the tower and move it there temporarily. The plan was ultimately abandoned out of fear that the French government (who, remember, originally wanted it dismantled after just 20 years) wouldn't allow the tower to be rebuilt after returning from Montreal.
Since then -- and especially since new management took over in the 1980s -- the tower's future has been secure and its popularity booming (see the visitor's line above). Since the late 1960s, the tower's annual number of visitors has more than tripled.