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Beauty vs Notoriety: A Comparison of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty


Beauty vs Notoriety: A Comparison of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty

Both the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty have become lasting symbols of Western values – yet the two structures took different paths to becoming so enduring. Beauty, passion and emotion secured the Statue of Liberty’s place in history, while notoriety, economics and impressive innovation were behind the fate of the Eiffel Tower.

From their inceptions, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower were perceived differently by the populations they would come to serve. The Statue of Liberty was spoken of with cheer, hope and a desire to strengthen the intercontinental relationship between France and the United States. The Eiffel Tower, meanwhile, was condemned before it was ever built. Roland Barthes and Richard Howard write the following:

The tower’s inutility has always been obscurely felt to be a scandal, i.e., a truth, one that is precious and inadmissible. Even before it was built, it was blamed for being useless, which, it was believed at the time, was sufficient to condemn it; it was not in the spirit of a period commonly dedicated to rationality and to the empiricism of great bourgeois enterprises to endure the notion of a useless object. (Barthes and Howard 3)

Furthermore, Stanley Meisler of The New York Times wrote in 1987, “Just over 100 years ago, the leading writers, artists and intellectuals of France banded together to denounce the impending construction of what they called `the useless and monstrous’ Eiffel Tower.” This petition, says Mesiler, would later make them “One of French history’s laughingstocks”, but at the time, their view was shared by many. (Meisler 1)

Perhaps the perceived uselessness of the tower might have been overlooked if critics considered the tower beautiful – yet many objected to it on artistic and architectural terms. According to Barthes and Howard, “Maupassant often lunched at the restaurant in the tower, though he didn’t care much for the food: It‘s the only place in Paris, he used to say, where I don’t have to see it.” (Barthes and Howard 3) Many of the French, then, despised the tower from the get-go.

The contrast between the initial reaction to the Eiffel Tower and the initial reaction to the Statue of Liberty is striking. On November 22, 1875, The New York Times published an article on the proposed erection of the statue, which said the following:

I have already mentioned the idea, put forth by a number of our French Friends, for erecting a colossal statue to Liberty upon Bedloe’s Island, in New-York Harbor, and have spoken briefly of the project presented by M. Bartholdi, the sculptor. His statue, now exhibited in plaster, is a fine one indeed, and has been universally approved.[1] (Laboulaye 1)

The Statue of Liberty, then, before it ever made its way to Liberty Island, was universally approved because of its beauty. The statue also held appeal to the viewers of the day because of the values it stood for. Laboulaye writes, “It represents the genius of Liberty as a female figure, neatly draped, and holding a lamp high above her head with the right hand.” (Laboulaye 1) He also writes that “The idea at the bottom of this fine project is to erect a grand monument in souvenir of the ancient alliance and friendship between France and the United States.” (Laboulaye 1)

Its beauty has also helped the love Americans and the world feel for it endure – but beauty alone is not responsible for the attachment the world has to the statue. It also evokes meaningful emotions. Eve Bender writes the following:

For more than a century, Lady Liberty has guided the way to freedom and opportunity for countless immigrants from all corners of the globe. And although post-September 11, 2001, security concerns have prevented tourists from making the hallowed trip to her crown, nothing can quell the ideals she represents. (Bender 1)

The Statue of Liberty is one of the first sights an immigrant to America sees. She is a welcoming sight, who guides new arrivals towards her with a warm torch. Those who fled oppression to find themselves welcomed by such a sight must have felt strong emotions and for many today those emotions remain. The Eiffel Tower may not evoke such emotions. It was not designed to. Rather, it was designed as a temporary exhibition for Paris’s 1889 Universal Exposition. (Soppelsa and Stein 942) It was meant to demonstrate the ingenuity of France’s designers and engineers. Perhaps if it had had a more human element to it or if its designers had focused more on creating it with classical beauty, the Eiffel Tower would have been applauded more when it was first built. It did not.

Yet as the French and their visitors began to view the tower, many did come to love it. Soppelsa and Stein write that the tower served as the main attraction of the exposition. “On this momentous occasion,” they say, “the tower celebrated industrialism, the centrality of iron construction, the aesthetic exuberance of engineering and, not least, French technological prowess.” Not only that, they write, but “the tower’s triumphalism and gigantism, perhaps emphatic to the point of neurosis, suggest a familiar long-term mix of pride and anxiety around the technological `radiance’ of France.” (Soppelsa and Stein 943)

While the tower may not have had the human appeal of the Statue of Liberty, then, it did instill in the French a sense of pride – and it showcased French excellence in industry. Soppelsa and Stein also note that the tower served as a “turning point in blimp flights” and therefore contributed to France’s developments in aviation. France would soon claim that it was winning the Air Race against Germany, due, at least in part, to the tower’s aid. Use and practicality, therefore, have helped the tower endure and have fostered pride in it. (Soppelsa and Stein 944)

Today, critics criticize the Eiffel Tower’s critics. Mesiler writes, “Writers such as Alexander Dumas and Guy de Maupassant, architects such as Charles Garnier, composers such as Charles Gounod and all the towers other famous critics were guilty of great failure of imagination. They could not envision how the very uselessness and size of the tower would become its glory.” (Meisler 1) Today, says Mesiler, “It is hard to glimpse the tower looming over the aging, huddled buildings of Paris without marveling at its sheer audacity and at the imagination it took to design what was then the tallest structure in the world, construct it of girders and iron and set it for no purpose upon an elegant and genteel city.” (Meisler 1)

It is the towers boldness, its notoriety and its innovation, then, that make it so popular today and that have led it to last and to be recognized as, perhaps, the best known tourist attraction in France. It may not bring years to viewers’ eyes as they think of their immigrant ancestors arriving on American soil for the first time. It may not make visitors recite to themselves a poem so sentimental and moving as Emma Lazarus’s “New Colossus”, quoted at the statue of liberty, saying, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Lazarus 1) Yet, standing more than 600 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty, with its iron frame visible from nearly every part of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is awe-inducing.

Furthermore, according to writers from the History Channel, “Today, the Eiffel Tower, which continues to serve an important role in television and radio broadcasts, is considered an archeological wonder and attracts more visitors than any other paid attraction in the world.” (History Channel 1) The Statue of Liberty is equally iconic. Edward Berenson writes of it that “no other image is as widley recognized.” He says that he is “awed in a religious sense as I stand on the southern tip of Manhattan looking out at the great green goddess that symbolizes liberty, hospitality and opportunity—all that’s best about America itself.” (Berenson 2)

The statue still stands for the great friendship between France and the United States as well. Berenson writes, “inside the security station, I hear a great many French voices. The Statue of Liberty is a de riguer Manhattan stop for those whose countrymen conceived and constructed the monument nearly a century and a half ago.” What do these voices say? Bereson writes that one middle-aged Frenchman “leading a group of school-aged kids” was enthusiastic about the statue’s history. “Americans”, he said, “have much less bureaucracy” and he praises America for electing a black man president. He loves, says Berenson, “the idea of America, its allergy to hierarchies of class and inherited status, its optimism and ethic of freedom and especially the freedom to create oneself.” (Berenson 2)

In this, there is a similarity between the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. Both iconic structures celebrate great optimism. Each breaks away with tradition. The Statue of Liberty breaks the tradition of rejecting the homeless and the hungry as many countries would. It symbolizes the way in which America looks down on judging others by class. It celebrates freedom. The Eiffel Tower celebrates optimism by pushing the limits of architecture. It – literally – rises above the architectural efforts that came past. Its designers dared to embrace the modern in place of the traditional.

Both structures, too, instills in its viewers awe and optimism. Each showcases some of the best qualities of its respective nation. The Eiffel Tower showcases France’s innovation, industry, power and ability to defy the odds. Originally designed to commemorate the French Revolution, it also celebrates France’s move to free itself of its monarchy and to embrace democratic principles. France, indeed, was a leader in enlightened thinking and its thinkers paved the way for democracy in America. The tower’s celebration of Democratic ideals is less obvious than the Statue of Liberty’s – yet it is still there.


Though the Eiffel Tower met with criticism on its inception, while the Statue of Liberty was unanimously approved of, the two structures are nearly equally iconic today. The Eiffel Tower’s notoriety, innovation, ability to inspire awe and its ability to generate revenue have made it an enduring structure. Meanwhile, the Statue of Liberty has endured by capturing the hearts of Americans and people around the world with its beauty, emotional strength and celebration of the best qualities of America – particularly liberty and hospitality. Both are likely to continue to endure for generations.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland and Richard Howard. The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. Oakland: University of California Press, 1997.

Bender, Eve. "Visit the Lady Who Carries a Torch." Psychiatric News 10 Ocotber 2014.

Berenson, Edward. The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Gage, Matilda Joslyn. "Friends of Woman Suffrage." The New York Times 28 October 1886: 8.

History Channel. "Eiffel Tower." 2015. History. Online. 2015 05 April.

Laboulaye, M. "The Statue of Liberty." The New York Times 22 November 1875.

Lazarus, Emma. "The New Colossus ." 2007. Statue of Liberty National Monument. Online. 6 April 2015.

Meisler, Stanley. "Glory in Uselessness: The Eiffel Tower: Joke's on Its Critics." 23 April 1987. Los Angeles Times. Online. 6 April 2015.

Soppelsa, Peter and Blair Stein. "Santos-Dumont's Blimp Passes the Eiffel Tower." Tecunology and Culture 4 October 2013: 942-946. Online.

[1] The Statue of Liberty did have at least one critic. Mrs. Matilda Joslyn Gage, mother-in-law to L.Frank Baumm said that “In view of the dreadful and outrageous slavery” which women suffered at the hands of men “to make the Statue of Liberty a woman was “simply setting up a gigantic lie in the gaze of nations.” However, her objection was really aimed at men’s treatment of women, rather than at the statue itself. (Gage 8)

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