Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gustave Eiffel - Engineer with an artistic flair

Remember the Eiffel Tower - well I have visited it many times. It is a marvel of engineering and a testament to someone with determination and flair. Gustave was a designer and artist, surprisingly, he was also not a workaholic. Cheers to those who possess a balance between work and life.

Adapted from an article by James Detar, 2/11/11. 
Gustave Eiffel was born in 1832 in Dijon, France, steered to bridge building, landed the tower contract in 1886 and had it done three years later. AP
Gustave Eiffel was born in 1832 in Dijon, France, steered to bridge building, landed the tower contract in 1886 and had it done three years later.
Gustave Eiffel learned how to make sturdy and yet beautiful arches while drawing up plans for railroad bridges around the world.
The engineer took that knowledge and used it to build works that stand the test of time.
They include the Eiffel Tower and the inside of the Statue of Liberty.  Although he was a well-trained and brilliant engineer, Eiffel (1832-1923) wasn't a bookworm. When he wasn't creating designs or with his close-knit family, he was swimming or practicing his fencing skills.

Early in his career, while he was supervising construction of one of his bridges, he used his swimming skill to save the life of one of his workers.  "When one of his bridge riveters fell into the river, Eiffel, a strong swimmer, plunged right in to rescue the man from drowning," Jill Jonnes wrote in "Eiffel's Tower." "When they were both safe, he said calmly, 'Please be good enough to attach yourselves carefully in the future.'"
Not long after, Eiffel saved another man and his three children from drowning when their boat capsized, this time in a raging storm.
He cared about his workers to the point where he had the names of the over 200 workers who built the Eiffel Tower inscribed on it.
He had people who worked with him his whole career.  Eiffel's willingness to plunge in — into a river to save a life or into designing monuments like the 81-story Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty's interior frame — made him a titan. "First of all he was a genius," Jonnes said. "But he was also a genius who loved a challenge. If someone said something couldn't be done, he was interested in that."
Edward Berenson, a professor of French history at New York University, says Eiffel was so bold because he believed in his creativity.

"He came up with solutions to engineering problems that were unique," Berenson said.
One example is the Statue of Liberty, designed by fellow Frenchman Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. Eiffel designed its internal frame, which holds off the elements.  "It was a remarkable work of engineering," Berenson said. "There's no way such a huge statue could have been built to stand in New York Harbor without the kind of work Eiffel did."

Statue Of Liberty's Base
The idea for the statue stemmed from France's struggles. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French government and declared himself emperor in 1852. Bartholdi, a prominent sculptor, led a campaign to create the statue to celebrate freedom in America and France. By the time construction began in the mid-1870s, Napoleon III was out, and a republican government was in place.
The Eiffel Tower, standing just over 1,000 feet in Paris, is the most visited paid monument in the world, with more than 6 million visitors a year. AP
The Eiffel Tower, standing just over 1,000 feet in Paris, is the most visited paid monument in the world, with more than 6 million visitors a year. AP View Enlarged Image
The statue rose the next 10 years.
"Fully assembled, the 151-foot Liberty loomed high over the Paris rooftops. When it was dismantled for shipment in 1885, Parisians would miss it," Berenson said. The statue was rebuilt and dedicated in New York Harbor in October 1886.
The design for the inside of the statue paved the way for Eiffel's monumental tower. "It's only a slight exaggeration to say the Statue of Liberty has an Eiffel Tower skeleton inside," Berenson said.
Eiffel was born into a middle-class family in France and spent his childhood in Dijon. His parents expected that he would run his uncle's vinegar and paint factory. A falling out between his sister and uncle put an end to that prospect.
Eiffel was drawn to the emerging field of railroad engineering. "Just as someone ambitious today would work in the world of Internet and social media, the comparable thing of that day was the railroads, and he began making those railroad bridges," Jonnes said.

In 1862 Eiffel married Marguerite Gaudelet, whom he had known since childhood. They were madly in love and in quick succession had five children. Eiffel was stunned when Marguerite died of a chest ailment in 1877 at the age of 32.
His oldest daughter Claire, 14 at the time, assumed the role of caring for her younger siblings while Eiffel built his company. Eiffel never remarried, and formed a close bond with his oldest daughter. When she married, she and her husband — who became a partner in his firm — lived with Eiffel.

Eiffel's firm grew into a huge enterprise, building structures in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
In June 1886 he learned he had won the coveted commission to build a centerpiece that would serve as the archway entrance to the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. He didn't celebrate long. The government had talked about underwriting the whole thing. But it changed its mind and said it would pay only about a third of its estimated $1 million cost. Eiffel eventually committed to raising or paying the rest himself.

Throughout, Eiffel was confident he could build the tower, which would be the largest structure in the world. It would eclipse the recently completed, 555-foot-tall Washington Monument in America's capital.
Then came (1) a debate over where to put the tower and (2) a lawsuit by a resident near the World's Fair site worried the 1,000-foot tall structure might tip over. The commission in charge of the fair put construction on hold.

While he waited, Eiffel's production shops produced more than 5,000 drawings of the skeleton and other parts of the tower. "Gustave Eiffel spent the cold and snowy December of 1886 in a mingled agony of frustration and indecision," Jonnes wrote. At one point, he nearly gave up. He wrote a letter meant for his friend and supporter on the commission, Edouard Lockroy, saying he had to withdraw from the project. The delays had made it impossible to build the tower in time for the fair.

Then Eiffel changed his mind and put the letter in a drawer. "Instead, he threw all caution to the wind," Jonnes said. He wouldn't give his enemies the satisfaction of seeing him retreat from the field. First, he agreed to indemnify the government against any settlements from lawsuits by Paris residents, and against any consequences in the event the tower fell. Then he agreed to raise all funding beyond the one-third the government was prepared to put in. It worked. The logjam broke, and he could finally begin work.
Just making the tiny iron pieces the workers used daily for the tower's modules consumed agonizing hours. The company had to design each piece separately, calculating places for rivets to within one-tenth of a millimeter.

Throughout, Eiffel saw the tower as a way to demonstrate his French pride. "It was kind of an artistic achievement," Berenson said. "He wanted to show off his own engineering genius and the engineering genius of France."

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When the fair — and the tower — opened in 1889, the result was a monument that erased doubt in the minds of his detractors — jealous rival architects, artists who detested its appearance and fearful Paris residents who lived near the site. Most people, even those who once opposed it, realized what a brilliant piece of engineering it was, Berenson says.

In his later years, Eiffel turned his keen mind to the study of weather and aviation. The field of flight was emerging, with wind — which Eiffel had mastered while building railroad bridges, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower — crucial. "He made significant contributions" to research on the effects of weather on aircraft, Jonnes said. "He won a medal from the Smithsonian for his pioneering work in aviation."
Eiffel died at home, reportedly while listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Today, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited paid monument in the world, with more than 6 million visitors a year. And in the U.S., 3.2 million visit the Statue of Liberty annually.

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