(p. W12) The tower is so beloved that few today remember the storm of vitriol, mockery and lawsuits provoked by its selection as the startling centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. (One of the losing entries was a gigantic working guillotine!) Even as Eiffel was breaking ground by the Seine River in February 1887, 47 of France’s greatest names decried in a letter to Le Temps the “odious column of bolted metal.” What person of good taste, this flock of intellectuals asked, could endure the thought of this “dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing [all] beneath its barbarous mass”? The revered painters Ernest Meissonier and William-Adolphe Bouguereau, writers Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas fils, composer Charles Gounod and architect Charles Garnier all signed this epistolary call to arms, stating that “the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonor of Paris.”
Gustave Eiffel, a self-made millionaire whose firm constructed much-admired bridges all over the world, happily twitted his critics: “They begin by declaring that my tower is not French. It is big enough and clumsy enough for the English or Americans, but it is not our style, they say. We are more occupied by little artistic bibelots. . . . Why should we not show the world what we can do in the way of great engineering projects?”
For the full commentary, see:
JILL JONNES. “MASTERPIECE; ‘Odious Column’ of Metal; The Eiffel Tower wasn’t always a beloved icon.” Wall Street Journal (Tues., MAY 9, 2009): W12.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)