- Santos-Dumont's Blimp Passes the Eiffel Tower
The photograph on this issue's cover is drawn from Gustav Eiffel's 1902 book, La Tour Eiffel en 1900.1 This book documented the tower's continuing development after its 1889 debut, including its importance for scientific experiments in wireless transmission, meteorology, long-range photography, and aviation. Eiffel addressed the book to the tower's critics, who claimed that its relevance and grandeur had faded since 1889.
The tower was the clou ("main attraction," literally nail, pin, or spike) of Paris's 1889 universal exposition, which celebrated a century of republican progress since the French Revolution. On this momentous occasion, the tower celebrated industrialism, the centrality of iron construction, the aesthetic exuberance of engineering, and, not least, French technological prowess. From 1855 to 1900, the universal expositions brought the world to Paris as they promoted Paris to the world. The tower's triumphalism and gigantism, perhaps emphatic to the point of neurosis, suggest a familiar long-term mix of pride and anxiety around the technological "radiance" of France, as analyzed by Gabrielle Hecht, Chandra Mukerji, and Sara Pritchard.2
The tower's stark, industrial look was daringly modernist in its time, and conservatives put up a legendary fight before Eiffel won. The tower has been heralded as a bold, futuristic precursor to architectural modernism's functionalist and abstractionist tendencies, and even a pre-skyscraper. As a leader in France's public works industry (bridges, construction, and railways [End Page 942] in particular), Eiffel rubbed shoulders with powerful politicians, financiers, experts, and engineers. His international reach touched the Statue of Liberty, the French colonization of Vietnam, and the ill-fated Panama Canal project under Ferdinand de Lesseps.3 Eiffel is emblematic of the Third Republic's commercial, political, and technological elites and their positivist, Saint-Simonean ideology. Eiffel's hard-won tower symbolized the social victory of these elites under the Third Republic and self-consciously promoted the fusion of science and industry cited by Theresa Levitt in her opening essay. As Levitt recently wrote in the pages of T&C, "France at the time was one of the most vibrant and high-stakes battlegrounds of the forces of modernity, and science was at the center of the fight."4
Railway development was crucial to the new Third Republic's national imaginary after 1870, when the Prussian railways outpaced the French, while the kaiser's army laid siege to Paris, in part by destroying railway supply lines.5 Eiffel's tower design effectively adapted materials and forms of railway bridge construction to this vertical setting: the tower's silhouette looks like the two halves of one of his iconic parabolic railway bridges tipped up on end and placed back-to-back. He also adapted railway communication to the vertical setting, wiring the tower for telephones, with remote terminals at regular intervals where engineers and workmen could plug in to communicate with coworkers far above or below for real-time information at a distance.6
When the next universal exposition arrived in 1900, many in Paris felt that the tower should not serve as clou again, although no new monument dominated the plans. Even the métro's first line, which opened during the exposition, did not seem a sufficient showpiece.7 Eiffel responded in his 1902 book, which bid to maintain the tower's relevance by reinventing it, finding new and varied uses (meteorology, aviation) that went beyond mere symbolism and showmanship. Derek Vaillant's article in this issue details some of the tower's use for broadcasting in the era of the world wars.
The tower was also used as a convenient turning point in blimp flights. In our cover image, the blimp and the tower are linked as high-flying modern technological marvels. Flight had elevated French technoscientific radiance since the Montgolfier brothers, who are analyzed in Mi Gyung Kim's article in this issue. La France (1884) was the first successful, fully steerable airship (dirigeable). In these early years of aviation, just making a successful [End Page 943] flight from takeoff to landing was a feat, and France often celebrated La France's...