The chimney of the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower and its steam engines

Friday 17 April 2020

Modified the 12/01/21

Yes, the Eiffel Tower used to run on the power of steam engines before switching to electricity! By Bertrand Lemoine.

The Tower put its elevators into service shortly after opening in May 1889. For about the first ten years, they were powered by steam engines installed at the base. 

Steam engines had already been used to construct the Tower, with a steam crane in each pillar that climbed as the Tower grew. Then, freight elevators – also steam-powered – were successively installed on the first and second floors, and at intermediate levels between the second and third floors. 

To operate the elevators transporting visitors, four Collet-type, coal-fired steam engines were installed in the Tower's South Pillar. They generated the steam that directly powered the pumps, providing the hydraulic energy needed to move the various elevators. Pipes carried the hydraulic energy to the other pillars, and reservoirs on the second and third floors provided a reserve of energy above the elevators.

The chimney, a remnant of the steam era

The smoke was evacuated through a flue that was 5.6 feet (1.7 m) high by 4.27 feet (1.3 m) wide, and led to a 41-foot high (12.5 m) brick chimney installed 380 feet (116 m) away in the gardens. This chimney still exists today and is located near the east pillar, on a mound that also houses an artificial cave. It is clearly visible to visitors leaving by the Exit 1 path. 

In 1900, two additional generators were installed and new pumps and electric motors modernized the operation of the elevators. The days of steam power were over!

Vue sur la cheminée de la tour Eiffel
© SETE/ A.Nestora


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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