When Mr. Eiffel submitted his gigantic project to the Government, the idea was welcomed with favour: Messrs. Lockroy, Minister of Commerce, and Georges Berger encouraged it very particularly and smoothed out many administrative difficulties for its execution. As for public opinion, it was almost unanimous in its applause, and the movement was so complete in the press and in the crowd that when the projects for the Universal Exhibition for 1889 were put out to competition, the official programme included, as an essential element, a three hundred metre tower. All the competitors complied; the Eiffel Tower was then decided in principle.
There was only one protest, but it was signed by famous names: Meissonier, Gounod, Ch. Garnier, Gérôme, Bonnat, Bouguereau, Sully-Prudhomme, Robert-l'Ieury, Victorien Sardou, Pailleron, Leconte de Lisle, Guy de Maupassant, Jean Gigoux, Jules Lefèvre, Eugène Guillaume, Jacquet, Duez, etc. (almost all of them are now among the most enthusiastic admirers of M. Eiffel's monument).
In this protest, published in February 1887 in the form of a letter to M. Alphand, they stated that the Tower would be "the dishonour of Paris" and that "this factory chimney" would crush with its barbaric mass all our humiliated monuments, all our shrunken architecture. On the city "still quivering with the genius of so many centuries," one would "see the odious shadow of this odious column of sheet metal" stretch out like an ink stain!
M. Lockroy, the promoter of the Tower, the one who most powerfully helped M. Eiffel during his time at the Ministry of Culture. Eiffel during his time at the Ministry of Commerce, felt himself targeted by this diatribe, even because of the governmental support he had lent and the subsidy of 1 million 500 thousand francs he had granted in the name of the State for this great work; and in a reply full of irony he declared that Paris had nothing to fear, but that he "could have saved, indeed, if the protest had come earlier, the only part of the great city" that was seriously threatened: that incomparable "square of sand which is called the Champ de Mars, so worthy "of inspiring poets and seducing landscape artists. " In conclusion, the minister asked M. Alphand to keep this famous protest: "It should be displayed in the windows of the Exhibition," he added, "it cannot fail to attract the crowd, and perhaps to astonish them.
Mr. Eiffel, undaunted by any attack, had full and complete confidence in the reliability of his calculations, in the precision of his studies, in the aesthetic beauty of his work and in its complete success.
Time has proven him right.
© Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal 1889