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Gustave Eiffel : His life
>> The first successes
When Charles Nepveu’s business faced unexpected financial difficulties, Gustave Eiffel decided to continue to work for him, even without pay. Several bridges designed by the young engineer won tenders organized by rail way companies. When Nepveu’s company is finally absorbed by the Compagnie Générale des Chemins de Fers, Gustave’s precision and sense of challenge put him in charge, at only 25 years old, of a highly strategic project: the construction of the Bordeaux bridge..

It was a risky and ambitious endeavor : a bridge of more than 500 meters, built over a tumultuous river. To succeed, Gustave experimented with some of the techniques that later became his trademarks, such as the use of compressed‐air caissons to build the foundations of the bridge.

Gustave, now the company’s chief engineer, supervises the construction of several more bridges in the area. He settles in Bordeaux and tries to marry. Perceived as a bit of an upstart by the rich local bourgeoisie, he is turned down several times and calls his mother to the rescue, asking her to find him « a neat housewife that won’t pester him too much » (!) The wise Catherine finds the perfect candidate in Marie Gaudelet, who Gustave has already met in his youth. In spite of the unusual circumstances, Gustave will love Marie dearly. She will give birth to five children: Claire, Laure, Édouard, Valentine and Albert.

At the end of 1866, Gustave Eiffel, encouraged by his successes in building bridges in the South‐West of France, starts his own company at 48, rue Fouquet in Levallois Perret, on the west‐side of Paris. He quickly wins a series of major contracts that consolidate his reputation in France but more especially in the rest of the world – such as the viaducts of Rouzat and of Neuvial, or the Salemleck footbridge in Egypt.

Gustave outclasses the competition by the extreme precision of his projects, all designed and produced part by part in his workshops to be then only assembled on the building site, and by the technical innovations that he develops and improves upon – such as the use of cantilevers and the “hurling” of the central span between two existing bridge piles – that also make his constructions faster to build and extremely cost effective.