The Eiffel Tower, or Tour Eiffel, may be the most recognizable iconic image of Paris. It’s an iron latticework tower standing 300 meters tall.
The tower gets its name from Gustave Eiffel, an engineer and the owner of the company that built it. Eiffel was also responsible for the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, for the World’s Fair, observing the centennial of the French Revolution.
There were more than 100 entries in the competition to build a special structure for the World’s Fair. Eiffel, two engineers, and an architect worked together to create their plan. The special construction method that allowed the tower to rise to the height of 1000 feet was patented.
It took a little more than two years to build the tower, and engineers today agree that it was not only amazingly fast but also amazingly precise.
Elementary lesson: Design Contest
The Eiffel Tower was chosen from 107 different designs. Have a design contest in your classroom!
- See one of the competitors — a giant stone tower.
- In 1890, the city of London held a contest to design a tower like the Eiffel Tower to be built in London. See some of the designs.
Print out some of the designs and sort them, as a class, into groups. There are many possibilities — you can sort by the material used, by the overall shape, and many other criteria. Try three different sorts to help students focus in on the many design details.
After examining and discussing the tower designs, challenge your students to design a giant tower for your city. Create a bulletin board display of the designs and let the class choose the winner — or hold the contest during Open House.
If you don’t care to have winners, let the class come up with a special award for each design. One might be the Most Unusual, the Most Whimsical, the Hardest to Build, or the Most Characteristic of your town.
Upper elementary lesson: The Elevators
The Eiffel Tower’s elevators broke many records when they were first built. Elevators were a new thing in those days, and the elevators for the Eiffel Tower couldn’t go straight up and down — they had to travel along the shape of the tower. They were a marvel of engineering, powered by water (hydraulics). Definitely worth a lesson!
Begin by enjoying the view from the elevators on a trip up the tower.
- Read about the elevators at the official Eiffel Tower website’s Lifts page.
- Read more about the elevators: a shorter passage or a longer one. Both of these articles have been translated — possibly by artificial intelligence like Google Translate. Challenge students to edit the articles for more natural and accurate English.
- Read about the most recent update to the elevators.
- Check out lots of pictures of the elevators, past and present.
In the video, we can see people walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevators. It’s 1,710 steps to the top of the tower, but visitors can only go up the first 674 steps. Ask students to prepare a report explaining why they would choose to ride the elevator or take the stairs.
Secondary lesson: Science and the Eiffel Tower
Read more about the history of the Eiffel Tower. The tower was originally scheduled to be demolished 20 years after it was built for the World’s Fair. As your students will learn when they read the article linked in the preceding sentence, many people disliked the tower and did not want it to live on past that original 20 years.
Gustave Eiffel disagreed.
He believed that the tower could be an important tool for scientific experimentation. The day after the tower was inagurated, he built a laboratory for astronomical and meteorological observations. He filled it with equipment that allowed people to make these observations and encouraged scientists everywhere to take advantage of the observation space. Since the Eiffel Tower was at that time the tallest building in the world, it was well suited to this purpose.
Read more about the scientific use of the Eiffel Tower at the Science page of the official Eiffel Tower website.
72 scientists’ names are engraved along the edges of the tower. The science page lists the 72 scientists honored in this way. Have each students choose one of the scientists and prepare a report. Have students present the reports to the class.
The Eiffel Tower has been important to science, but also to technology. It has been used for radio and telecommunications for nearly a century, and it is still very important for this purpose.
Depending which sources you read, it can sound as though Gustave Eiffel wanted the tower to live on so that it could be used for scientific study… or that he wanted it to be used for scientific study so that it would live on. Discuss this question as a writing prompt for your students.
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