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Gustave Eiffel almost built the Panama Canal

And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those darn bankers!

We don’t normally observe 180th anniversaries, or as we like to call them, octadecacentennials. But we’re making an exception in this case for the anniversary of the official opening of the Eiffel Tower. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the structure was made feasible by his engineering work in wind-resistant pylons. The tower took two years to build, but was just one of the many architecturally impressive — and previously unattempted — feats that Eiffel undertook during his lifetime, from the Garrabit Viaduct over the Truyere River to the structural skeleton of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor commissioned by comrade Auguste Bartholdi. Eiffel even attempted to build the Panama Canal before being thwarted by financial issues outside of his control. Most interestingly, Eiffel used his Tour Eiffel as a basis for scientific study.

What had seemed a tenuous justification to build the world’s tallest structure became a second career for Eiffel. Having answered the Eiffel Tower’s foes by saying that it would be useful for studies of aerodynamics and wind resistance, Eiffel spent the last 20 years of his career performing such studies from the tower, as well as designing wind tunnels and airplane wings. His efforts garnered the Smithsonian Institution’s Gold Medal in Aviation, the first to be awarded after the Wright brothers medal.

Each of the 12,000 different component parts of the tower was designed to counteract wind pressures, and 2,500,000 rivets were used to create a continuous structure. Four main piers, each with a slight curve, anchored to separate foundations incorporated elevators; two acted on a combined principle of pistons and chains, and the two American Otis elevators acted on a hydraulic piston system. Other hydraulic elevator systems linked the first level to the second one and the second level to the third.

Eiffel was born in Dijon in 1832, but contrary to popular belief, did not actually invent dijon mustard (this is generally credited to Jean Naigeon). He died in 1923. He is being Spotlighted this week on the Biography Resource Center homepage, where you’ll find easy access to two narrative biographies, two brief biographies, and two related websites.

We also have some good stuff on William Fisk Harrah — Bill Harrah — whose company built the Paris Las Vegas hotel casino complete with a scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. It’s unclear at this point if engineers or scientists are using this resource to help with research, as the original Eiffel did.

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Posted on: May 6, 2009, 1:01 pm Category: Factoids Tagged with: , , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. The last sentence of the previous comment should, for clarity, read: “Financial issues will again play a part as they did in Eiffel’s day and, in this case, will pave the way for Bert Gustav Shelton’s more profitable and environmentally responsible solution.” (Could the moderator kindly edit it? Thank you!)

  2. Like Gustave Eiffel, Bert Gustav Shelton has applied his mind to the challenges of the Panama Canal: expanding its capacity significantly with the water available in its watershed today. He has succeeded impressively. His two-lane, two-step solution is being reviewed as a far more viable alternative(see http://www.crucestrail.com)providing superior capacity increases and a much greater return-on-investment using water far more efficiently than the risky one-lane, three-step and 18-tank cumbersome concept now under design. Although his hydraulic solutions are best for the current project, Bert Shelton also designed a virtual “no-water-loss” mechanical ship lift, the SSL, defying the claim made by the Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Engineering” program that such devices were “beyond extreme engineering”. Financial issues will again play a part as they did in Eiffel’s day and, in this case, will pave the way for his safer, more profitable and environmentally responsible solution.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Topics about Tour-eiffel | Gustave Eiffel almost built the Panama Canal linked to this post on May 8, 2009

    […] Biography Resource Center created an interesting post today on Gustave Eiffel almost built the Panama CanalHere’s a short outlineThe tower took two years to build, but was just one of the many architecturally impressive — and previously unattempted — feats that Eiffel undertook during his lifetime, from the Garrabit Viaduct over the Truyere River to the … […]

  2. Time to call 1-877-LADYTIX >> Biography Resource Center - Gale linked to this post on May 8, 2009

    […] Gustave Eiffel almost built the Panama Canal […]

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