Great piece from Giles Milton, at his blog Surviving History, on Edward Watkin -- an enterprising Englishman who set out to build a British competitor to the Eiffel Tower. Watkin, a railway magnate, was determined to open a tower which was taller than Eiffel's, and to make his fortune selling railway tickets to tourists. He galvanized the public with a rallying cry -- "Anything Paris can do, London can do better!":
By the end of 1889, architects from across the world were working on designs for a tower that would be taller and more spectacular than Eiffel’s. Watkin’s idea fired the public imagination and his Metropolitan Tower Construction Company became a byword for national pride.... Soon the designs began to arrive on Watkin’s desk - from Italy, Sweden and Turkey, as well as many other countries.
Watkin quickly realised that most of the designs were frankly preposterous. One, named Ye Vegetarian Tower, was submitted by the London Vegetarian Society. It came complete with hanging vegetable gardens.... Another, the so-called Tower of Babel, was so vast in scale that it had a road and railway leading to the top.... As Watkin flicked through the numerous entries, he realised there was only one design that was actually practical. It was made of open metal lattice work and rose to a point at the top. Standing upon four legs (the original design had six) it was in every respect an exact copy of the Eiffel Tower.
More -- including some great photos and architectural drawings -- at Surviving History.
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