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When the British Tried to Build Their Own Eiffel Tower

In the late 19th century, London nearly got a 1,200-foot steel monument to transcontinental jealousy.
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Oh, how the British hated the Eiffel Tower. It’s “a hellish piece of ugliness,” English artist William Morris wrote in the socialist newspaper Commonweal, having seen the 1,000-foot steel structure during its debut at the Paris Exposition of 1889. Pity the Parisians, he sighed, for the Tour d’Eiffel is “a piece of brigandage on the public.”

But haters, as the saying goes, are going to hate, and what was then the tallest tower in the world was a smashing success for the City of Lights. “Constructed with a government subsidy of one-and-a-half million francs, the Eiffel Tower easily paid for itself in admission revenues even before the Exposition closed,” writes historian Robert Jay in his paper on the subject. By October of 1889, Sir Edward Watkin, a politician and railway entrepreneur, had decided that London should have a tower of its own.