Fact is, the Eiffel Tower arguably holds the record for ratio of grandiosity to usefulness of any structure in the world. (Some will say the Statue of Liberty comes close, but let's remember who dreamed that up.)
This is a matter worth pondering. People have been building tall structures since the days of Babylon — mostly for the glory, of course, but usually with some ostensible higher purpose in mind. Temples and cathedrals celebrate the divine; the pyramids are tombs; the Washington Monument commemorates the first U.S. president. The tallest building in the world at the moment, the 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, is 828 meters tall (2,717 feet). One suspects this is somewhat larger than was demanded by the local real estate market, but the fact remains that the Burj Khalifa is a building, containing habitable space.
Not so the Eiffel Tower — at least not to any great extent. It was vanity architecture in close to pure form. That's not to say it was a sinkhole financially. The tower has an observation deck, restaurants, a meeting space, a souvenir shop, and so on, all of which charge appropriately lofty rates. The tower earned back most of its construction cost during the 1889 exhibition; add in a subsidy from the city of Paris, and the project finished comfortably in the black.
Cecil also addresses these issues:
Did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grow marijuana?
In the TV show "Kung Fu," what were the names of the monks? - it should be noted that The Straight Dope began in 1973, before you could Google everything 24/7, and such information was a pain in the ass to track down, back in those ancient times.
Did Bugs Bunny appear in a racist cartoon during World War II? - bonus info with this article - a list of racist animated shorts from Warner Brothers.
Can you be an atheist and still be Jewish?
What's the origin of nautical terms like "jibe," "tack," etc.?
What's the deal with colloidal silver?
Why does so much ancient Greek art feature males with small genitalia?
Tomorrow's blog post - pictures of swords.