Sat, 01 Apr 2023

Paris - Gustave Eiffel died 100 years ago at the age of 91. Best known as the engineer behind the Eiffel Tower, he was also an entrepreneur and patron of the sciences.

Over the course of his life, Eiffel was the name behind more than 500 projects located in 30 countries around the world.

Eiffel's legacy

For the centenary of his death, RFI language services will examine the legacy of Eiffel, who was sometimes known as the 'Magician of Iron.

Just as in the 20th century where the invention of the internet gave birth to some of the biggest companies in the world, in the 19th century, the development of roads and railroads across Europe and the world, turned manufacturing companies into giants.

With their expertise and wealth, they built bridges and roads and opened the way for the rapid spread and development European industry and culture.

As a young graduate of the Ecole Centrale, Eiffel became synonymous with this expansion in the first part of his life as his ability to master iron and steel, along with his business acumen, gave him notoriety not just in France, but also across the world.

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He was the driving force behind the Maria Pia viaduct over the Douro River in Portugal and the Statue of Liberty, whose interior structure he built and now stands on Liberty Island off the coast of New York.

He is responsible for building the Garabit viaduct in France and the Budapest train station in Hungary, as well as the Arica Cathedral in Chile and the Ungheni Bridge in Romania.

He designed the locks of the Panama Canal as well as the Trang Tien Bridge over the Flower River in Hue, Vietnam, and the dome of the Nice Observatory.

There is also the dozens of replicas of this "300-meter tower" - the Eiffel Tower -, including the diminutive seven metre tower in Santos Dumont, Brazil, and the massive Tianducheng replica in, China.

Eifflel's centenary

To mark his centenary, RFI will return to the places where these technical and architectural feats were accomplished and provide reports and videos about these engineering marvels over the course of the year.

The year will also provide an opportunity to shine the light on one of the most significant scandals of the century, notably the bankruptcy of the company entrusted with constructing the Panama Canal.

While Eiffel was initially implicated in the affair, the courts overturned his conviction on appeal, but he never really recovered.

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Morally wounded, but still passionate about science and innovation despite his old age, Eiffel devoted the last years of his life to using his tower as a laboratory, where he advanced the development of wireless technology, radio, meteorology, aerology and aeronautics.

To understand the importance of Gustave Eiffel's life and work, RFI met with one of the experts of the period, Bertrand Lemoine, an engineer himself, but also an architect and historian.

The Association of Descendants of Gustave Eiffel, of which Bertrand Lemoine is one of the scientific advisors, is one of the masterminds of the numerous events marking the centenary of Eiffel's death in 2023. This includes an exhibition sponsored by UNESCO that will begin in Paris and tour several countries.

Originally published on RFI

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