New Zealand’s own Eiffel Tower opens

17 December 1889

Crowds at the NZ and South Seas Exhibition, c. 1889 (Hocken Library, S09-039e)

Just 8½ months after Gustave Eiffel’s famous Paris tower was officially completed in March 1889, a wooden replica Eiffel Tower opened at the 1889–90 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin.

The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition offered the Austral Otis Elevator Company, who built the Eiffel Tower’s elevators, a chance to display its wares in New Zealand. It constructed the 40-m wooden tower, inside which an elevator rose about 30 m. The tower cost an estimated £1200 (equivalent to around $226,000 today). The cost of a ride was sixpence ($4.60) for adults and threepence ($2.30) for children.

The spacious and nicely decorated elevator cabin was 2.5 m square and able to hold 16 people. It could stop at any of the four landings, each bordered by a wooden fence to prevent accidents. An Otis steam-hoisting engine provided the necessary power to the four strong wire cables. The elevator cabin and each of the landings were lit by electricity, and at the top, a large electric searchlight lit the sky.

By Nigel Isaacs