Eiffel, who had German roots, was born Alexandre Gustave Bonickhausen dit Eiffel in 1832 in Dijon but he dropped the German part of his surname after the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, fearing it could damage his career.
Erected in record time, the 7,000-tonne, 300-metre (1,052-foot) "Iron Lady" was the tallest human-made structure in the world for four decades.
Commenting on its place in history, the Bureau International d'Expositions, which organises World Expos, says it "marked the pinnacle of iron architecture, and set the pace for the skyscraper frenzy that would follow in the 20th century".
Projects on five continents
The Tower came towards the end of Eiffel's career, during which he built around 500 structures across five continents.
He built his reputation as a builder of railway bridges but also used his metal wizardry to build the Pest railway station in Hungary, lighthouses in Finland and Madagascar, the structure of the Saigon Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City and the iron framework of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Never short of ideas, Eiffel proposed to build what he described as a bridge under the Channel to link France with Britain.
His 1890 design envisaged a system of concrete-coated metal tubes built on supports resting on the sea bed.
The project never saw the light of day, but 104 years later the Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France, which measures 169 Eiffel Towers placed end-to-end, was launched to great fanfare.
Eiffel was as much an entrepreneur as engineer. In 1887, his company won the contract to build locks for the Panama Canal -- the biggest deal of his career.
But poor management by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Frenchman who had overseen the successful Suez Canal, caused the project to collapse, resulting in one of the biggest financial scandals of 19th century.
De Lesseps and Eiffel were both charged with fraud and sentenced to prison and hefty fines.