Frise des 72 savants

Whose are the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower and why are they there

Thursday 18 June 2020

Modified the 17/12/20

Gustave Eiffel had the names of 72 scholars inscribed on the border encircling the first floor of the Tower. But how did he choose them and why put them there? By Bertrand Lemoine. 

The first floor of the Tower is encircled by a large continuous beam, punctuated by consoles which support the balcony. In the spaces thus created, Gustave Eiffel had the names of scholars inscribed in golden capital letters 60 centimeters high, large enough to be read from the ground. Eighteen names are thus written on each side, in a random order. In this way, he placed his Tower under the auspices of science and progress as part of commemorations of the 100th anniversary the French Revolution, of which his Tower was one of the most visible expressions. Several considerations determined the choice of these scholars and engineers. They are all French and all lived and worked between 1789 and 1889. All of them had passed away by the time the Tower was inaugurated, except Hippolyte Fizeau, who died in 1896 and to whom we owe the precise measurement of the speed of light. The chemist Chevreul died on April 9, 1889 at the age of 103. The last born was General Perrier, a geographer and mathematician, born in 1833 and who died in 1888.

A scientific pantheon

There are scientists, such as Ampère or Gay-Lussac, civil engineers, such as Flachat and Polonceau, railway specialists such as Perdonnet and Clapeyron, manufacturers such as Schneider for steel and Vicat for cement, entrepreneurs and industrialists such as Seguin (a specialist in suspension bridges), Triger (a specialist in river foundations) and Cail or Gouin (builders who had competed with Eiffel for many years), and developers such as Belgrand (responsible for the sanitation system in Paris). All disciplines are represented : mathematics (Cauchy, Fourier), physics, the most represented discipline with 17 names (Lavoisier, Fresnel, Laplace), mechanics (Navier), astronomy (Le Verrier), agronomy (Chaptal), electricity (Coulomb), natural sciences (Cuvier), chemistry (Lavoisier), mineralogy (Haüy), medicine (Bichat) and even photography (Daguerre) and ballooning (Giffard). Some 34 are graduates of the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique (Polytechnic School). 

Frise des 72 savants
© SETE_AlexandreNestora

No more than 12 letters

Another criterion was the length of the names. Given the space available, each name could not contain more than twelve letters (Lechatellier), omitting the first name. For this reason, various scholars were not selected, such as Étienne Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire. Unfortunately, there are no women among these 72 names.
Crowned with the names of illustrious scholars, the Eiffel Tower becomes a kind of scientific pantheon celebrating the power of the human mind, and not only that of construction and industrial technologies. 



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.

Bertrand Lemoine

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