Gustave Eiffel

Gustave Eiffel bigraphy, stories - French civil engineer and architect

Gustave Eiffel : biography

15 December 1832 – 27 December 1923

Alexandre Gustave EiffelBönickhausen ( ) (15 December 1832 – 27 December 1923) was a French civil engineer, architect and freemason.joined in 1901 Lodge L’Émancipation at GODF in Paris (archives of the lodge)Raphaël Aurillac, Paris décrypté, Dervy editionPierre Buisseret,Jean-Michel Quillardet, Initiation à la franc-maçonnerie, Marabout edition, p. 223Monique Cara, Jean-Marc Cara, Marc Jode, Dictionnaire universel de la Franc-Maçonnerie, Larousse editionAlain Queruel, Découvrir la franc-maçonnerie, Eyrolles editionMichel Van Cromphaut, L’État-nation à l’ère de la mondialisation, l’Harmattan A graduate of the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, he made his name with various bridges for the French railway network, most famously the Garabit viaduct. He is best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, France. After his retirement from engineering, Eiffel concentrated his energies on research into meteorology and aerodynamics, making important contributions in both fields.


Gustave Eiffel’s career was a result of Industrial Revolution. For a variety of economic and political reasons, this had been slow to make an impact in France, and Eiffel had the good fortune to be working at a time of rapid industrial development in France. Eiffel’s importance as an engineer was twofold. Firstly he was ready to adopt innovative techniques first used by others, such as his use of compressed-air caissons and hollow cast-iron piers, and secondly he was a pioneer in his insistence on basing all engineering decisions on a base of thorough calculation of the forces involved, combining this analytical approach with an insistence on a high standard of accuracy in drawing and manufacture.

The growth of the railway network had an immense effect on people’s lives, but although the enormous number of bridges and other work undertaken by Eiffel were an important part of this, the two works that did most to make him famous are the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, both projects of immense symbolic importance and today internationally recognized landmarks. The Tower is also important because of its role in establishing the aesthetic potential of structures whose appearance is largely dictated by practical considerations.

His contribution to the science of aerodynamics is probably of equal importance to his work as an engineer.Flight International 3 January 1924

Protection of Gustave Eiffel’s heritage

A number of works of Gustave Eiffel are in danger today. Some have already been destroyed, like in Vietnam. A proposal to demolish the railway bridge of Bordeaux (also known as the "passerelle St Jean"), the first major work of Gustave Eiffel, resulted in a large response from the public. Actions to protect the bridge were taken as early as 2002 by the "Association of the Descendants of Gustave Eiffel", joined from 2005 onwards by the Association "Sauvons la Passerelle Eiffel" (Save the Eiffel Bridge). They led, in 2010, to the decision to list Eiffel’s Bordeaux bridge as a French Historical Monument. ADGE news bulletin (in French)

Early life

Gustave Eiffel was born in France, in the Côte-d’Or, the first child of Alexandre and Catherine Eiffel. He was a descendant of Jean–Rene Bönickhausen, who emigrated from the German town of Marmagen and settled in Paris at the beginning of the eighteenth century.Loyrette 1985, p.21 The family adopted the name Eiffel as a reference to the Eifel mountains in the region from which it had come. Although the family always used the name Eiffel, Gustave’s name was registered at birth as Bönickhausen,État-civil de la Côte-d’Or, Dijon, Registres d’état civil 1832, p. 249 and was not formally changed to Eiffel until 1880.Harvie 2006 p.1

At the time of Gustave’s birth his father, an ex-soldier, was working as an administrator for the French Army but shortly after his birth his mother expanded a charcoal business she had inherited from her parents to include a coal-distribution business and soon afterwards his father gave up his job to assist her. Due to his mother’s business commitments, Gustave spent his childhood living with his grandmother, but nevertheless remained close to his mother, who was to remain an influential figure until her death in 1878. The business was successful enough for Catherine Eiffel to sell the business in 1843 and retire on the proceeds.Harvie 2006, p.3 Eiffel was not a studious child, and thought his classes at the Lycée Royal in Dijon boring and a waste of time, although in his last two years, influenced by his teachers for history and literature, he began to study seriously, so that he managed to gain his baccalauréats in humanities and science.Loyrette 1985, p.25 An important part in his education was played by his uncle, Jean-Baptiste Mollerat, who had invented a process for distilling vinegar and had a large chemical works near Dijon, and one of his uncle’s friends, the chemist Michel Perret. Both men spent a lot of time with the young Eiffel, teaching him about everything from chemistry and mining to theology and philosophy.