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Britain's Eiffel Tower Competitor

Posted by Josh Rothman  February 14, 2012 06:20 PM

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Great piece from Giles Milton, at his blog Surviving History, on Edward Watkin -- an enterprising Englishman who set out to build a British competitor to the Eiffel Tower. Watkin, a railway magnate, was determined to open a tower which was taller than Eiffel's, and to make his fortune selling railway tickets to tourists. He galvanized the public with a rallying cry -- "Anything Paris can do, London can do better!":

By the end of 1889, architects from across the world were working on designs for a tower that would be taller and more spectacular than Eiffel’s. Watkin’s idea fired the public imagination and his Metropolitan Tower Construction Company became a byword for national pride.... Soon the designs began to arrive on Watkin’s desk - from Italy, Sweden and Turkey, as well as many other countries.

Watkin quickly realised that most of the designs were frankly preposterous. One, named Ye Vegetarian Tower, was submitted by the London Vegetarian Society. It came complete with hanging vegetable gardens.... Another, the so-called Tower of Babel, was so vast in scale that it had a road and railway leading to the top.... As Watkin flicked through the numerous entries, he realised there was only one design that was actually practical. It was made of open metal lattice work and rose to a point at the top. Standing upon four legs (the original design had six) it was in every respect an exact copy of the Eiffel Tower.

More -- including some great photos and architectural drawings -- at Surviving History.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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