The Tallest Structure in the World: 1917 and Now

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Is there a more familiar structure in the world than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France? Both the first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia, published in 1917, and the 2017 World Book devote an article to this impressive architectural monument. The 1917 World Book calls it “a marvel of execution and design” but notes that is it only “one of the interesting and ornamental features of Paris.” The tower musters a bit more enthusiasm in the 2017 World Book, which calls it “the most famous landmark in Paris.”

The Eiffel Tower, built by the French engineer Gustave Eiffel, was erected as the symbol of a world’s fair called the Universal Exposition of 1889. It stands in a large park called the Champ de Mars. The tower is 984 feet (300 meters) tall. The 1917 World Book text says that “The great height of the structure exceed(s) that of any other in the world.…” Today, the Eiffel Tower has long since been surpassed by giant buildings around the world. According to the 2017 World Book, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, for example, which is currently the world’s tallest building, stands 2,716 feet (828 meters) tall.

The 1917 article provides a great deal of detail about the early history of the Eiffel Tower. For example, the article reports that “The great height of the structure…made it an important military observation station during the War of the Nations [known to 2017 readers as World War I], which began in 1914. Repeatedly the Germans attempted its destruction by hurling bombs from airships.”

In 1917, Eiffel was still alive. (He died in 1923.) The 1917 World Book article notes that Eiffel, who was a leading bridge designer, also designed the gigantic locks of the Panama Canal and the framework for the Statue of Liberty.

Regardless of the buildings that have followed it, in the minds of many people throughout the world, the Eiffel Tower may have been eclipsed in height but not in stature.


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