Photo of intermediary level to the top

What were the elevators like in the Eiffel Tower’s early days

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Modified the 18/01/22

Hosting the general public at an altitude of over 300 meters means that the Eiffel Tower must have sophisticated elevators that are both fast and safe. In 1889, its 5 elevators were the tallest and most sophisticated in the world. By Bertrand Lemoine.

In 1889, elevators were the latest thing and a technological feat. There were hardly any buildings that were equipped with them, even if they were starting to appear in the first high-rise buildings in the United States. Gustave Eiffel planned for three different systems to access the Tower. All of them were to be driven by hydraulic power, with water reservoirs installed on each floor.

Four double-deck elevators served the 1st and 2nd floor, sliding on inclined rails in the pillars. Operators sitting in the small seats outside of the cars steered them. Two elevators provided by the American company Otis were installed in the North and South pillars, and were pulled by cables, equipped with cast iron counterweights, with a safety system meant to stop them in the event of a cut cable or excessively high speed. 

An intermediary to go up to the top!

The two other elevators, in the East and West pillars, were built by Roux, Combaluzier et Lepape. They were driven by hydraulic pistons with movable joints installed at the foot of the elevators. Between the 2nd floor and 3rd floor, the ascent was provided by a vertical hydraulic elevator built by Edoux. The two cars were balanced, and each car ran only half of the height. Visitors thus had to switch cars on an intermediate landing to go all the way up to the top. 

The power for the five elevators was driven by a steam engine installed in the South pillar. The steam from the engine was evacuated by a brick chimney 12 meters high, which was built in the gardens near the West pillar. A tunnel connected the machine to the South pillar, in which the steam evacuation pipes were inserted. The chimney is still there, although it isn’t in operation anymore!

Find out more about the Eiffel Tower's elevators.

Photo ascenseur historique Otis Eiffel Tower Collection

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.

Photo Bertrand Lemoine

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