PGB 5: Did Eiffel Live On The Eiffel Tower?
High atop the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel used to have an apartment with the most coveted view in the city. But did he live in it? What happened in that exclusive space? And is it still there? Find out more about Eiffel’s apartment on the Eiffel Tower in this high-altitude episode!
Gustave Eiffel’s apartment hovered nearly a 1000 feet above Paris at the top of what was the tallest building in the world. While the apartment itself is not exactly a secret, the little peek-a-boo window glimpse we see today only tells a small part of the story. Let’s find out more!
The Apartment Itself
What does an apartment built inside an open-work iron tower look like? How did Gustave use the space? It was this question—what went on up there?!—that started this whole journey.
A few months ago, I was having a conversation with my brother about the tower. We were reminiscing about our visit—we did the gauntlet of all three levels—way back in 2009. And he mused about the apartment and what, well, a “ladies magnet” it must have been. Always looking for ideas, a lightbulb went off for me! This was too tantalizing to resist researching!
The Grand Tour
The apartment’s design had to work around the existing iron infrastructure of the tower. Which created some interesting shapes and spaces, including the ones you can see today in the peek-a-boo museum:
The apartment itself didn’t have a bedroom, but it did have his office, receptions spaces, a small kitchen, and a WC (whew!). A large portion of the floor was taken up by laboratory spaces. He did love his science!
The Eiffel Tower website insists that he didn’t live at the tower and that the lack of a bedroom implies that he never slept there. And he did actually have a very lovely home in another part of the city. I feel like even though there wasn’t a bedroom, he probably did sleep there periodically. Who wants to trudge home after a long evening of socializing or experimenting?
The apartment was located on the second floor of the third floor, sometimes called the fourth floor even though it accessed by the third floor. If you’ve been, you know the area. It’s the level that is so frustrating to access as you try to follow the tide of tourists up and down the stairs!
Let’s break down the spaces:
This is what we see recreated today (above), supposedly using a lot of the original furniture and decor. The space is cramped and forced to fit within the restrictions of the tower architecture.
There are several photos of possible reception spaces.
This is what I would call high-Victorian style lounge or parlor style (though I think technically Belle Epoque in France?), with that busy wall-paper, upholstered and tasseled furniture, and dark wood look. The long bench or sofa would have probably been perfect for the unplanned slumber!
There is a second space as well. It has a more of a formal vibe, with that fancy circular bench and the chairs and tables scattered around. It looks more like a place where you hold cocktails parties and soirees, doesn’t it? This room is a bit of a mystery. The building plan doesn’t show two rooms, but we don’t know exactly what the end result was. If you know more, let us know in the comments!
What Happened Up There?
Officially, nothing that would make for juicy tabloid headlines. Alas. We do know that Gustave protected his privacy and seems to have used the space most frequently for his experiments, ruminations, and generally as a fortress of relative solitude. However, he did have a social side and supposedly loved throwing himself birthday parties up there!
If you were quite lucky, you received an invite to Gustave’s high-altitude abode. Who were the among elite few?
Thomas Edison is the most famous guest. At their meeting, he gave Eiffel an early phonograph. This scene is now immortalized with wax figures in the apartment on the tower. In the background, we also see Eiffel’s daughter Claire. She was a permanent fixture next to Gustave—his helpmeet, research assistant, and hostess.
I do hope Thomas also gave Eiffel some wax cylinders! I don’t think they would have been readily available in Paris at the time? Maybe they were for sale at the Expo? Edison was always looking to make a buck (or a franc)!
It seems that Gustave did get his hands on at least one blank cylinder. From the catalog, “Edison’s Display at the Paris Exhibition, 1889 (page CXLI),” we get this tantalizing tidbit:
…and upon the closing day of the Exposition the phonograph which Mr. Edison had presented to Mr. Eiffel, being placed in his private room on top of the tower, recorded the boom of the last gun fired from the summit to announce the closing of the greatest Exposition the world has ever seen. This cylinder, which contains some remarks from Mr. Eiffel and others to Mr. Edison, was sent to America.
This may require more research…
Where Is The Photo?
Intriguingly, this incredible meeting of the minds was either not recorded in a photograph or the photo has been lost. Jill Jonnes, the author of Eiffel’s Tower, wrote an article about the event back in 2009 and her hunt for the possibly non-existent photographic evidence. A photo was perhaps not taken, is not being shared by the family, or sadly was lost to time.
Jonnes also related another, unrepresented in the tableau, part of this event. Apparently, the French composer Charles Gounod, who had originally bad-mouthed the tower but later recanted, joined the two geniuses and serenaded them on Eiffel’s piano well in to the evening! To be a fly on that wall!
Who else had the privilege of joining Gustave on the tower? Other important guests over the years included French President Sadi-Carnot, the future King of England Edward VII, a number of other dignitaries, and, to balance it all out, Buffalo Bill Cody and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The private spaces of the tower weren’t just for parties and schmoozing, though! Gustave also had multiple laboratories installed, both in his aerie and on the other levels. He performed experiments on various subjects, including atmospheric and meteorological studies and a Foucault’s pendulum was installed to study the earth’s forces. But his most important experiments were on wind, wind pressure, and aerodynamics.
After the success of the tower and a brief but traumatizing time in prison for a Panama Canal-related scandal, Eiffel dedicated his life to science and experimentation. Don’t worry! He was proven innocent but not before he had been thrown in jail.
Incredibly, he shared his research and discoveries freely and didn’t pursue patents or other legal restrictions on it. He also published books about his findings, including The Resistance of the Air and Aviation: Experiments carried out at the Champ de Mars laboratory in 1910. And he received the second ever Langley Prize in Aviation (with Glenn Curtiss) from the Smithsonian for his research. The first, of course, had gone to the Wright Brothers.
What else did he do up there? Well, those secrets have yet to be told! He was a widower in his 50s at this point in time, so some companionship would not have been amiss. But despite what popular fiction currently says, it seems that he was not looking for romantic love. Instead, he remained dedicated to his children, especially his favorite daughter Claire, and his grandchildren, and to his passion for science throughout his twilight years.
So, while he certainly held parties up there at the top of Paris, it wasn’t exactly the type of party pad my brother had speculated about! Though many others probably thought about it, too. It was recorded at the time that many people did offer Eiffel money to rent out the space for their own gatherings. He reportedly declined them all.
Accessing The Apartment
The location of the apartment is a blessing and a curse. Sure, you have an amazing view. But you are on top of one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. How much privacy was there really? Could the public access that level at the time?
In general, the answer is yes. According to the period guidebooks (such a rabbit hole!), both levels of the third floor were usually available as viewing platforms. But there were some restrictions. It seems that in the winter months and, depending on the year, things were different.
In 1908, per The Vest-pocket Guide to Paris, the tower was open daily, including the elevators, from April to November. During winter, tourists were only permitted to the second floor and only by the stairs, no lifts! The tower was also only open to tourists from noon until dusk. By comparison, in Summer 2022, the tower is open until 10:45pm!
Back in 1894, according to the popular Baedeker’s guide, the apartment level (which they call the 4th floor) was only open Sun, Mon, Wed, and Thursday. The daily hours were longer: “The tower is open daily from 10 a.m. till dusk, from March to November.” However, they don’t mention any winter hours at all.
Going back even further, access to the 4th floor seems to have originally been private, based on a drawing by one of the designers.
This privacy seems to have extended throughout the expo. Both English language and French language expo guides don’t mention the ability to go to the 4th floor but the French one does show a diagram and calls it the “Appartement de M. Eiffel.”
So, in sum, regardless of the time period, Gustave with would have had considerable privacy either all the time or for large parts of the day and sometimes entirely in winter. But the crowds would have been there sometimes! The photos above show that he did have big picture windows in his apartment—I wonder how they were blocked off or even if they were blocked off? I feel like there were shutters involved, since the French love their shutters! And did he have a private elevator? Or did he cram in with the tourists? That feels like it would be…awkward.
Why Did Eiffel Have His Own Place?
Now that we’ve explored the apartment itself, there is another important question. How exactly did Eiffel end up with an apartment on the tower? Is he just that cool? It’s city property, isn’t it? Now, yes, it is the property of the city of Paris. But not from the beginning…
When the tower was built, it was a joint financial venture between Eiffel and the state of France. Part of that contract was that Eiffel was primarily responsible for the cost of his creation. They had an entire exposition to build and their budget didn’t extend to building gigantic iron towers!
The anticipated total cost of the tower project was 6.5 million francs. The French government only ponied up 1.5 million francs. Eiffel was then responsible for obtaining the rest and dealing with the finances, in return for commercial exploitation rights for twenty years. After which, the tower was to be demolished and sold for scrap. Spoiler Alert: the tower wasn’t torn down.
To come up with the cash, he created a corporation and partnered with banks and investors, using the anticipated ticket sales from the fair and the twenty year exploitation contract he held on the tower as collateral. Never fear, they supposedly made their money back during the fair itself!
In the end, Eiffel’s giant tower cost about 7.9 million francs. Construction has always run over budget! I couldn’t find total income numbers, but it is fair to say profits were definitely made.
After the Expo
Originally, after the end of the expo, starting in 1890, Gustave had those exclusive rights to exploit it financially for the next 20 years. But the actual ownership flipped from the national government to the city of Paris. This arrangement would end when the tower was torn down. But, in 1910, Eiffel successfully negotiated a 70 year extension. Meaning this would extend until 1980! He died in 1923. It’s a bit unclear, but I assume his heirs then held those rights because the city didn’t create any formal management organization until 1980. That is one very impressive inheritance!
Since he knew the tower was his for at least 20 years, he built into the designs an apartment for himself. I’m not certain if that was always the intention or a change made as construction moved along, but either way, well-played Gustave. Well-played.
The Apartment Now
It seems that the apartment, after Gustave’s death in 1923, lay dormant for awhile. Which I find interesting, since I assume his family still access to it? Perhaps it wasn’t worth renovating or they found the tourists too much to bear? According to several unconfirmed sources, the only part of the apartment that still exists is the part that we can see. The remaining private spaces possibly remained laboratories, were converted into additional lab or mechanical spaces, and/or, intriguingly, a modern apartment with a kitchenette and a few beds. I wonder if that is actually for staff now?
Back to Earth
This brings us to the end of the story of Eiffel’s Place on the Eiffel Tower. Would you have wanted that apartment? Or would the tourists be too much? Let us know below! I have serious motion sickness issues and I fear the constant swaying of the tower would get to me after awhile! But I would have loved to see the apartment in its hey day. Though I think I would rather hang out with Gounod, or Sarah or Buffalo Bill than Thomas Edison!
Seeing The Tower Today
The Eiffel Tower is open to the public and back to being super crowded. If you want to visit the tower, I strongly recommend buying your tickets in advance. Especially if you are traveling at peak times. Tickets are available two months in advance, so mark your calendar!
Before You Go
Buy Your Tickets. There are several kinds of tickets at various price levels with different amounts of access. See current prices here.
- 1st and 2nd Floor Combo Ticket with Elevators. This means you do not have access to the 3rd floor or the peek-a-boo apartment tableau.
- All 3 Floor Floors with Elevators. This is the full meal deal! All the way to the top. You will take an elevator to the 2nd floor and have to switch to a different elevator for the 3rd floor. This does mean more waiting in line.
- 1st and 2nd Floor Combo Ticket by Stairs (No Elevators). Feeling healthy? Claustrophobic? Can’t find another ticket? Looking to save some cash? The stairs are for you! These can only be bought day-of at the ticket office.
- 1st and 2nd Floor Combo Ticket by Stairs (No Elevators) + 3rd Floor (with elevator). Mercifully, you will ride the elevator to the third floor. Also only available at the ticket office, day of.
It’s best to get tickets directly through the tower. But if you can’t find any during your visit, there are plenty of tour companies that you can book a tour through. Check out your favorite guide book for recommendations.
Which level is right for you? It is generally agreed that the 2nd Floor offers the best of views of the city itself. But the 3rd floor offers the best view of the whole area. Don’t expect to see a lot of city detail from that height, though they do have map guides along the perimeter to help you find landmarks. Plus you get to see Gustave, Thomas, and Claire! 😀
Set Aside Time. Getting in requires two trips through security: One to get under the tower and one to get into the tower. Plus waiting in line for the elevators. Emotionally prepare.
Read the tower’s handy “Plan a Smooth Visit” Guide to help you get ready!
Getting There. There are multiple ways to get to the tower, including Metro/RER, bus, boat, car, bike, and of course foot.
If you are short on time or money or both, there are alternatives to the tower for viewing the City of Light. The bonus is they will all have the Eiffel Tower in the view!
- Montparnasse Tower. This tower has an enclosed view from near the top, with an (expensive) bar as an added bonus. And you don’t have to gaze upon the relative eyesore that is the Montparnasse Tower. It is more expensive than all but the full meal deal Eiffel tickets, but it is less crowded and will take less time.
- The Arc de Triomphe. Much lower to the ground, but it is monumental and the view is amazing! This is the cheapest of the paid options, though there are usually some lines (much shorter than at the Eiffel). Note that taking the stairs is required unless you are pregnant, have reduced mobility, or visiting with young children. The Arc is covered by the Museum Pass. At the time of writing, no time-specific reservation is required but a ticket or museum pass must presented to enter.
- For free, you can visit the grand magasins (department stores). Galeries Lafayette has a big viewing platform, complete with a view of the backside of the Opera Garnier. Or go with Printemps for their rooftop views. Printemps’ rooftop is mostly cafe spaces, so play it cool or buy a coffee. Or, for a less central look over the city, head up to Sacré-Cœur!
With these alternatives, is the tower worth it? If you have the time and the money, I think it is! There is something unique about being on the Iron Lady. If you can, I recommend doing it at least once. If you are short on time or money or both, then I recommend simply swinging by, grabbing some great photos from the Champs de Mars or the Trocadero across the river, and then moving on to cheaper, less crowded, pastures.
Let us know if you are planning a trip to the tower! Will you go all the way to the top? Will you brave the stairs? Or maybe just take some pictures from below? We look forward to hearing your stories!
To support PGB with a donation, you can buy me a (virtual) coffee through this magic button:
You can also follow along on Instagram and YouTube.
Simply want more history? Check out all the blog posts or the podcasts. Even your curiosité helps!
Looking for a new book or gift for a Francophile Friend? Browse the Boutique!
For more support ideas, check out the Support Page!
Lastly, if you would like to learn more and stay up-to-date, please sign up for the newsletter!
Header Image: Emplacement de la tour Eiffel à l’Exposition universelle de 1889. From La tour de trois cents mètres by Gustave Eiffel. 1900. Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by Kuxu76. Public Domain.
Inside the Museum: From the Tour Eiffel Twitter feed, August 8, 2019.
Plan for Logement de Monsieur Eiffel: La tour de trois cents mètres [Planche XIX] by Gustave Eiffel. 1900. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Sciences et techniques, GR FOL-V-749 (PLANCHES, DOUBLE). Public Domain.
Reception Room 1: Tour Eiffel Facebook Page, November 18. 2019.
Reception Room 2: Pinterest. PIN 188658671867193113
Cupola Designer’s Drawing: Le sommet de la Tour Eiffel. Coupe dessinéee par M. Rouillard. 1889. From: Huard, Charles-Lucien.. Livre d’or de l’Exposition, Tome 1. Paris: L. Boulanger, 1889. Wikipedia Commons. Uploaded by Paris 16. Public Domain.
Edison Phonograph Display: Edison’s display at the Paris Exhibition, 1889 [Catalog]. The Paris universal exhibition album, 1889 = lExposition universelle de Paris = la Exposicion universal de Paris / published under the patronage of the American Commission. London ; Paris ; New York : Stiassny and E. Rasetti, [1889?]. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 2006 Folio 103. Public Domain.
Buffalo Bill Cody: Buffalo Bill Cody by Sarony, c1880. Photograph by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by Scewing. Public Domain.
Sara(h) Bernhardt: Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra (1891). Photograph by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by G. dallorto. Public Domain.
Appartement de M. Eiffel: Guide illustré de l’Exposition universelle de 1889…1re édition. Page 66. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Sciences et techniques, 8-V-21717. Public Domain.
Expo from Air Ballon: Vue aérienne, depuis un ballon, de l’exposition universelle de 1889. By Alphonse Liébert (1826-1913/14). Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by Alonso de Mendoza. Public Domain.
Eiffel Tower Elevator: By the author, taken October 2018. ©2018 Michelle Keel
View From 3rd Floor: By the author, taken October 2018. ©2018 Michelle Keel