While everyone alive is aware of the Eiffel Tower, many are unaware that the tower you see today is NOT the tower originally built in 1889. The Tower was built in the years 1887 – 1889 for the Universal Exposition in Paris out of 18,000 pieces of iron. Those pieces were joined together with 2.5 million rivets, and since the structure is nothing but a big frame, it is – in an image all American boys understand – nothing more than a big Erector Set.
As part of the routine maintenance, the people who run the Tower regularly check the iron pieces that make up the structure. Even though the Tower is re-painted every seven years, the iron still rusts. After all, the Tower is exposed to the roughest of elements 365 days a year. To keep the building structurally sound, inspectors go over the Tower and look for the most deteriorated pieces of metal. Each year 300 of the worst pieces of iron are removed from the Tower – one at a time – and replaced with brand new pieces. The process of reaching the old piece, removing the rusted rivets (which usually requires grinding and drilling), and placing the new piece is quite cumbersome. As a result, the workers can usually only replace one piece a day. After replacement, the new pieces are painted to match the surrounding area.
At 300 replacements a year, the 18,000 pieces in the Tower are replaced completely every 60 years. Today, the Tower is 118 years old, so the Tower has now been "replaced" almost twice.
One more thing: the Tower was a gift to the City of Paris and the bequest specified that Paris could not sell or dispose of "any part" of the tower without permission of the corporation that paid for its original construction. If they were to do that, ownership of the Tower would revert back to the corporation. As a result, the old pieces removed from the Tower – the number is around 35,400 now – are all in a warehouse outside of Paris and their number is growing by 300 per year. Presumably, you could reassemble these "used" tower pieces into another full-size (albeit rusty) Eiffel Tower and still have plenty left over.
It seems parts of the above legend are true, according to the official Eiffel Tower website – the numbers stated above are all true, except we didn’t find any information about one metal piece being replaced each day. We also found no information about the "not for sale" clause mentioned in the paragraph above. The information we found on the renovation of the Eiffel Tower follows:
"In the 80s, a very ambitious program of renovation was launched. The Tower structure was given a thorough examination, strengthened in certain locations and lightened in others with the removal of 1,340 tons of material that had been added over the years. Safety standards were redefined and adapted to modern requirements, particularly where they concerned fire safety. The third level elevator was replaced, as was the old spiral staircase, which gave way to a new rectilinear staircase in keeping with the Tower design, reducing the transparency of the spire. This ongoing maintenance is intended to keep the Tower in excellent condition: meticulous care is given to the monitoring of change relying on the latest techniques available so as to prevent any possible deterioration. This rejuvenating process helps give the Tower a very long life expectancy."