In 1172, a widow
named Berta di Bernardo left 60 coins in her will for the purchase
of some stones for the creation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Back
then, it would be called just the Tower of Pisa, since it didn't
begin to tilt until five years later. Construction of the tower
began on Aug. 9, 1173, but it's unknown who designed it.
Standing 187 feet
tall, the tower is built on a riverbed only 6 feet above sea level.
The ground beneath the tower is made up of uneven layers of sand and
clay, which caused it to lean to the north just five years after
construction began, while they were working on the third floor. The
tilt was then overcorrected, and the tower began leaning to the
south. Subsequent efforts to correct the tower made it lean even
further, leaving the top 17 feet from where it was originally
planned. This flaw is what gives the tower its notoriety and makes
it stand out as a tourist attraction.
interrupted several times, mainly due to wars, and the tower was
finally completed in 1350. It's believed that if construction had
been allowed to continue uninterrupted, the ground would not have
had time to settle properly and the tower would have toppled over.
The story of one man's efforts to
straighten it out:
There had been many
attempts to correct the tilt over the years, but each one failed.
Then Richard Wright, a 77-year-old inventor from Collinsville, Ill.,
came up with a solution -- one that he had been working on since the
In 1995, he sent a
letter by certified mail to the mayor of Pisa, Italy. In the letter,
which was signed for and received by the mayor's office, Rich
explained how the tower could be straightened with a heavy weight to
counteract the tilt. With the diagrams that he drew up, he showed
that they should counteract the weight below the ground, at the
bedrock level, which could be achieved by erecting another building
next to the tower on the opposing north side. "Weight is weight, and
the new building could be used as a tourist device. The more
tourists that visit the building, the more weight that is used,"
Rich explained. His solution would lead to a gradual correction,
which is what was needed.
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second column in this article]
Roughly a year later,
a TV story showed that tower officials had begun to straighten the
tower by using weights to counteract the tilt. "The method that I
suggested was put to use," Richard said, "but instead of using a
building as a weight, they drilled into the bedrock on the opposite
side of the tilt and added many tons of lead ingots above the
They used Rich's idea
but not his plan. Then something went wrong and the tower
overcorrected. No one knows for sure what happened, but one possible
explanation is that they tried to freeze the foundation under the
tower with liquid nitrogen and then started removing stones. They
didn't realize it at the time, but these stones were actually part
of the tower's foundation. They used Rich's idea of counterbalancing
the tower with weight, but their method was different, and the
result was that the correction was too large.
Maybe they should
have used Rich's plan instead.
I've known Rich for
six years now. I met him at an inventor's meeting in 1998, and we
soon began working together to get one of his inventions on the
market. He wasn't looking for any kind of payment or reward for his
tower efforts. Just knowing that his solution might straighten the
tower -- and that he might be changing the tower's course of history
-- was enough reward.
Could it have been a
coincidence? Sure, but we'll probably never know. Rich continues to
invent because it's what he loves to do. Like a lot of inventors,
his mind is always working … trying to solve more problems and
develop new products.
The tower is one of the Seven Wonders of
the World. What would happen if they tried to straighten the tower
to make it perfectly level? The people of Pisa would never allow
that to happen. After all, the Leaning Tower of Pisa … must lean.
Paul Niemann is a contributing
author to Inventors' Digest magazine, and he also runs
building websites for inventors. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2003
column in LDN:
celebrities co-starred as real-life inventors"