Portrait of Claire Eiffel

What was Gustave Eiffel’s daughter Claire’s role?

Tuesday 31 March 2020

Modified the 31/03/20

The eldest of Gustave Eiffel's five children, his daughter Claire, played a special role in his life, eventually becoming his main assistant. By Bertrand Lemoine.

Gustave Eiffel married Marguerite Gaudelet in 1862 at the age of 30, in Dijon. Unfortunately, she died prematurely fifteen years later. They had five children: Claire, born on 19 August 1863, Laure, Édouard, Valentine, and the youngest, Albert, born in August 1873. Gustave was very busy with his work and traveling, and so left his eldest daughter Claire, then 14 years old, to look after the family following his wife's death. She in fact became a surrogate mother for her brothers and sisters and would always remain very close to her father, with whom she collaborated on a daily basis.

She accompanied him to Porto two months after her mother's death, and again in 1880. In 1885, she married Adolphe Salles, an engineer who had just graduated from the École Polytechnique and the École des Mines, and whom Eiffel had chosen to succeed him as head of the company. This succession took place in 1893 when Gustave finished directing the work on the Eiffel Tower. The couple lived in Gustave Eiffel's home, a luxurious mansion on rue Rabelais in Paris, which Claire inherited after her father's death in 1923. 

For more than forty years, Claire played a major, though little-known, role in her father's life both as confidante and private secretary. Visitors to the Eiffel Tower can see her wax figure alongside Gustave Eiffel and his guest Thomas Edison in the reproduction of Eiffel's office at the top of the Tower.

Claire Eiffel's wax statue In Gustave Eiffel's office
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Office of Gustave Eiffel with Thomas Edison
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Office of Gustave Eiffel
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In Gustave Eiffel's office

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Bertrand Lemoine is an architect, engineer and historian. He was a research director at the CNRS and general manager of the Atelier International du Grand Paris. He is an internationally recognized specialist in the history and current events of architecture, construction, the city and heritage in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in Paris, Greater Paris and the Eiffel Tower. He is the author of forty-three books and several hundred articles on these subjects. He is currently a consultant on architectural, urban, digital and energy issues.

Portrait de Bertrand Lemoine

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