Government ministers wanted a big, impressive centerpiece for the fair. One popular suggestion was a tower that would stand about 1,000 feet (300 m) tall. No such tower had ever been built. In spring 1886, the government announced a contest for French architects and engineers. They had two months to submit their plans for the world’s tallest structure.
Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923) was one step ahead of the government. Eiffel already had a team of architects and engineers working on plans for a tower. Eiffel was France’s most respected engineer. He had designed and built bridges and railroad stations. As the country’s rail system grew, Eiffel became a master designer of iron structures.
Eiffel believed that the tallest tower in the world could not be built of stone using old construction methods. The tower would be too heavy. Its foundation would sink, and its walls would crack. Eiffel had experience building bridges over mountain passes. He knew that winds are much stronger high above the earth. A very tall, solid tower would not be able to stand up to high winds. Eiffel instead wanted a wrought iron tower with open walls. Wrought iron is a very strong and rigid type of iron. Eiffel thought it would make a perfect building material for his tower. Maurice Koechlin, Eiffel and Company’s chief engineer, designed the tower. The plan was submitted to the fair’s managers and city leaders. The design was just what they had been hoping for. On January 8, 1887, Eiffel signed a contract to begin construction.