We tell a forgotten story of the time Citroën lit up the Eiffel tower with 250,000 light bulbs.
The story started in the year 1887: A ten-year old boy eagerly watching on as France’s iconic Eiffel Tower rose from the ground. Inspired by it’s constuction and the works of French novelist Jules Verne, he soon made it his ambition to become an engineer.
This is the story of French engineer and businessman André-Gustave Citroën and his drive to create and promote one of the most innovative car companies of the 20th century.
It didn’t start easy for young André. At the age of six, Citroën lived through his father suicide – and in the years following, he took to watching the construction of Tour Eiffel; which inspired by his father’s background, gave him a new-found passion for how things were built.
The year 1900 was important for André. At age 22, he graduated from École Polytechnique and visited Poland, the homeland of his mother who had recently passed away. During the holiday, he purchased a patent from a carpenter who was working on a set of angled gears and used it to develop new concept for the gearbox, marking the beginning of his inventive career.
In 1919, André founded the company Citroën, basing it’s historic ‘double chevron’ logo on the double angle gearboxes he developed; and soon after, the company became the first European carmaker to produce cars on a production line.
André Citroën was Europe’s Henry Ford.
The first was the 10HP Type A revealed in March 1919, which used a water-cooled 1327cc inline-4 that made 13kW (18hp) of power. Top speed for the new production car was 65km/h, helped along with a three-speed manual gearbox and a final drive comprised with ‘chevron’ shaped teeth.
André Citroën was no stranger to large marketing projects. In 1922, he hired an aeroplane to fly over the heart of Paris during the seventh annual motor show to leave a line of text in the sky depicting his surname, the name of his company. The distance of the contrail stretched over 5 kilometres in length, igniting the skies for an audience of over 2.8 million Parisians.
Now this brings us to 1925.
As part of the Paris Expo, André Citroën took to the engineering masterpiece that helped him become who he was. Renting out the Eiffel Tower, his team set to work on the master plan to cover the the entire uppser section of the superstructure with thousands upon thousands of lights.
After the project was completed, it gained Guiness World Record fame as the largest advertising sign in the world, with some 250,000 individual light bulbs and nearly 600 kilometres of wiring. This covered a length of over 210 metres up the tower on three out of four faces.
The lights remained on the tower for an incredible nine years, until the company’s bankrupcy in 1934. During that time, American aviator Charles Lindbergh made his 34 hour journey from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis for a world first attempt at a solo trans-Atlantic flight. He used Citroën’s Eiffel Tower lights as a beacon to guide his descent into Paris’s Le-Bourget Airport.
André died one year later in 1935 at the age of 57 – but his legacy lived on. After the company was saved by Michelin, the Citroën brand under new ownership powered on to become one of the largest automotive pioneers of the 20th century…
And none of that was possible without businessman, engineer, inventor, and pioneer – André Citroën.