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Edison at the Eiffel Tower


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Tinfoilphono

This is my favorite piece of Edison memorabilia -- a place card signed by Edison, Gustave Eiffel, and composer Charles Gounod on the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

 

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Here's the front side:

 

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Edison sailed for Europe in August 1889 for a very rare vacation with his family. His main goal was to visit the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) at which the newly-constructed Eiffel Tower was the main attraction. He visited the tower twice as a tourist, lunching each time at the Restaurant Brébant on the first level of the tower, but on September 10, 1889 he made an official visit as a guest of Gustave Eiffel himself, who was president of the Société des Ingénieurs Civils (Society of Civil Engineers), once again in the same restaurant. Some 60-70 guests attended, including Edison's wife and daughter.

 

After a lavish lunch with many toasts to both Edison and Eiffel, the group adjourned to the very top of the tower where Eiffel had a large private apartment. As they were leaving the restaurant, Eiffel noticed composer Charles Gounod just finishing his own lunch. Gounod had been a very vocal detractor of the tower when it was first proposed, but like many others who loathed the concept, he came to love it once it was completed. Eiffel graciously invited Gounod to join the party.

 

During the afternoon in Eiffel's apartment at 1,000 feet above the fair, Edison presented him with a new "Perfected Phonograph" (Spectacle Class M). This machine is still on display at the top of the tower today.

 

One of the engineers who attended the luncheon and reception, M. Reymond, took home a special souvenir after getting the three famous men to sign the back of his place card. I'm aware of a business card signed at the same event, by the same men, but without the musical stanza by Gounod. I suspect many of the attendees also left with autographs, so perhaps others will come to light in the future.

 

There are two known photographs of Edison taken that day, but unfortunately not at the luncheon or reception. This one shows Edison at the top of the tower with Eiffel's son-in-law and business partner, M. Salles.

 

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I highly recommend the book "Eiffel's Tower" by Jill Jonnes to anyone interested in this amazing tower, or the fair itself (and all of the many people involved). She gives a full description of the luncheon of Sept. 10th as well as Edison's other travel highlights.

 

Edison had a huge exhibit at the fair -- the largest of all. He had a cluster of phonographs playing all day long (with eartubes), plus displays of electric lighting and other inventions. He was immensely popular there.

 

I bought this signed card ten years ago at an autograph auction (not eBay). I later found that it had originally been discovered in Paris in 2009, and was auctioned at Drouot that summer. The buyer evidently assumed he could get more for it in the US, thanks to the Edison connection, so he put it up for auction here. He lost that bet -- I paid significantly less than it had sold for in Paris. Sometimes you win....

 

 

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I love this Rene. What an interesting combination of people to get together in Paris in the 1890s. And, I love your story as well. And  would love to have a Charles Gounod signature. Wow!

 

I have not been in the Eiffel Tower for many years (I don't go there anymore because of the lines), but I remember in 1998 when I was there at the top there was an exhibition in a room behind glass with dummies of Eiffel and Edison characters and an Edison cylinder machine on a table. Somewhere I have pictures of that. It left an impression on me.

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Tinfoilphono

Yes, that machine is still there, with very life-like wax dummies of Edison, Eiffel, and Eiffel's daughter, Claire.

 

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When I went in 1999 with Bill Ptacek he took as many pictures as he could of the table, which has a special wooden frame to support two huge Grenet cells underneath. He planned to make replicas, but unfortunately, like several other plans he had, it never came to fruition because of his tragic drowning death in 2004.

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Unfortunately,  our archive Search and retrieval is inoperable,  but I recall a Sound Box or In the Groove article on this topic.

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Tinfoilphono

You're thinking of the article I wrote for the June 2013 issue of The Antique Phonograph. I went into much more detail there, but I figure some newer collectors may not have seen that.

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Neilvanstem
39 minutes ago, Tinfoilphono said:

You're thinking of the article I wrote for the June 2013 issue of The Antique Phonograph. I went into much more detail there, but I figure some newer collectors may not have seen that.

  I think I remember the article as it was all new to me and have the magazine no doubt. An interesting and informative article too. I must re-read it. About the photos and the 'wax' figures. Odd they would make them so much older looking unless Edison came back in his old age? Just comparing the photo to the figures you see the striking difference. 

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On 6/20/2020 at 10:12 PM, Tinfoilphono said:

Edison ... main goal was to visit the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair)

 

This was only the pretext for the public. Edison was a businessman through and through, and between 1889 and 1900 his thinking was largely determined by the iron ore project. He did not speak French and was terrified by social gatherings. Highlight of his European tour was the visit of the Lorraine Ironworks near Metz on September 11, 1889.

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  • 4 weeks later...

And Edison was certainly conscious of the press.....and used it to his advantage....

Le Figaro, the French publication, gave Edison a lot of press when he was in Paris for the 1889 Expo...he sent this to them

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