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Eiffel – symbolic engineer

Summary:
Gustav Eiffel, one of the 19th Century's significant engineers, was born on December 15th, 1832. He became one of the leading figures in France's Industrial Revolution which, for economic, cultural and political reasons, developed much later than its English counterpart. France was building infrastructure such as railways, and needed creative engineers to build the bridges and viaducts it needed. Eiffel pioneered many innovative design features, including prefabricated bridges that could be transported in sections to remote areas and then assembled with nuts and bolts rather than welding, and thus needing less skilled labour. He built bridges across Europe, showing a talent for combining the aesthetic with what the function required and what the materials allowed.He is most famous for two

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Gustav Eiffel, one of the 19th Century's significant engineers, was born on December 15th, 1832. He became one of the leading figures in France's Industrial Revolution which, for economic, cultural and political reasons, developed much later than its English counterpart. France was building infrastructure such as railways, and needed creative engineers to build the bridges and viaducts it needed.

Eiffel pioneered many innovative design features, including prefabricated bridges that could be transported in sections to remote areas and then assembled with nuts and bolts rather than welding, and thus needing less skilled labour. He built bridges across Europe, showing a talent for combining the aesthetic with what the function required and what the materials allowed.

He is most famous for two projects that became cultural icons. He designed and oversaw the construction of the Eiffel Tower, erected for the Great Paris Exposition of 1889. He also designed the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty, and had the entire statue erected at the Eiffel works in Paris before it was disassembled and shipped to the United States. Both of these works became symbols of the nations in which they were located.

One project he was involved in that went wrong was the early attempt to build a canal across Panama. After he'd been involved for a year, the company building it went into liquidation and there were court cases that followed. Charged with raiding money under false pretences, he received a fine of 20,000 francs and two years in prison, although both sentences were quashed on appeal.

His nearest counterpart in the UK was probably Isambard Kingdom Brunel, also French by origin. It was an age when engineers could conceive and build massive prestige projects, taking on challenges hitherto thought impossible, and astounding the world with virtuoso achievements. The successful ones tended to combine a creative imagination with secure knowledge of the forces and stresses at work on the materials, and an attention to the details of every part of the project.

It was also an age in which people of talent could raise money from backers to fund such ambitious projects as these, projects that left their mark on the world and still inspire admiration for the beauty and practicality with which they combine form and function. Few of today's engineers are household names, and few stamp their individual personality on projects that are more likely in modern times to be constructed by teams without public presence, and often funded, at least in part, by public money.

Gustav Eiffel was one of the larger-than-life figures who strode across the 19th Century, role models who inspired others to aim at greatness. The world is poorer by the relative lack of such figures in modern times.

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