Gustav Eiffel and four other people at the summit of the Eiffel Tower, 1889, during the Exposition Universelle.
Tissandier Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most beloved and recognizable monuments in the world. Designed and built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 on the occasion of the Exposition Universelle in Paris, the iron tower was initially spurned by critics. The so-called Committee of Three Hundred, a group of prominent artists, proclaimed the tower 'useless and monstrous' in a letter of protest published in Le Temps in 1887. The tower of course proved to be an enormous success and the public enthusiastically flocked to visit it. Originally conceived as a temporary twenty year structure, it was eventually allowed to remain standing as it could be used for radio transmission and as a meteorological observation station. The tower remained the tallest building in the world until 1930, when the Chrysler Building in New York claimed the title.
In 1980, it became apparent that the spiral staircase leading from the second to the third floor of the tower needed to be replaced because of safety concerns and in order to help lighten the weight of the overall structure. The staircase was cut into 24 sections of various lengths, ranging from 8 ft 6 inches to 25 ft 6 inches, and lowered to the ground with the help of winches. One of the sections was installed at the Eiffel Tower where it remains today. Three sections were given to French museums - the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée la Villette in Paris, and the Musée de Fer in Nancy - while the rest were auctioned off at the Eiffel Tower on 1 December 1983. This sale was a spectacular success as collectors from all over the world clamored for a piece of the legendary structure. Sections can now be found in numerous locations across the globe including the garden of the Yoishii Foundation in Yamanashi, Japan, next to the Statue of Liberty in New York, while another section was installed next to a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Disneyland. Artists such as the French singer Guy Béart acquired a section and the sculptor César incorporated a piece into a sculpture as a tribute to the Eiffel Tower.
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