During the later 19th century the rapid spread of iron and steel building technology created an engineers' architecture in which technical problems frequently took priority over traditional concerns of architectural style. Perhaps no other structure represents a more dramatic statement of this new spirit in architecture than the Eiffel Tower. Yet while the controversy surrounding the building of the Eiffel Tower is well known, the almost immediate attempts on the part of American and British engineers and architects to build a taller tower are not. This article concentrates particularly on two ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to outdistance the Eiffel Tower: Sir Edward Watkin's Wembley Park Tower in London and a monumental tower for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. These efforts were well documented in any number of architectural and engineering journals of the period. They were also frequently reported and debated in popular magazines and newspapers, reflecting the strong general interest and national pride involved in the prospect of claiming the tallest structure in the world. This article is based primarily on such period sources, not only because of the liveliness of the reportage, but because, in some cases, they provide the only accessible information on some of the proposed tower projects. The most striking fact about the ultimately futile efforts of British and American builders to construct a taller tower is that, while they certainly had the technical expertise to do so, economic considerations overcame them. Doubts as to the profitability of another tall tower as a public attraction on either a temporary or permanent basis doomed both the London and Chicago tower projects to failure.
- Copyright 1987 The Society of Architectural Historians