How a notorious con artist sold the Eiffel Tower

With an incredible fraud, Victor Lustig became the most famous con man of all time. He managed to sell the Eiffel Tower.
Niclas Staritz / t-online
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The Eiffel Tower has towered over Paris for more than 130 years. It has now become an integral part of the cityscape of the metropolis on the Seine. But that wasn’t always the case. After its opening, the tower was hated by many Parisians. One of the most famous scammers of all time took advantage of exactly this fact.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower was opened for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. The 330-meter-high iron frame tower served as the entrance gate and observation tower for the fair. On the northwest side of the Field of Mars, the iron scaffolding has since risen above the roofs of the French capital. With seven million paying visitors a year, it is now one of the most visited attractions in the world. Shortly after the opening, the city’s residents wanted to get rid of the tower as quickly as possible.

Artists in particular were against the construction of the tower from the start. In 1887, a group of artists and intellectuals even published a letter of protest in the renowned daily newspaper “Le Temps” at the start of construction. They are ‘strongly opposed to the construction of the unnecessary and monstrous Eiffel Tower in the heart of our capital’ they wrote at the time.

Even after the end of the World’s Fair, the protest continued. The Eiffel Tower was actually supposed to be demolished in 1909. But it was decided to leave it as a prominent building in the city and simply exclude the protest. However, the tower continued to divide opinion. And so the tower continued to receive critical notices in the mid-1920s. When the newspaper reported on the fall of the Eiffel Tower and the ongoing protests in 1925, it gave a reader an idea.

Victor Lustig had just arrived in Paris from the US. In the United States, the swindler, born in what is now the Czech Republic, posed as Count Victor Lustig from 1920 onwards. With his aristocratic attitude, he sold so-called money printing machines and made false bets on horse betting.

victor funny

So now he had come to Paris and saw the Eiffel Tower protest as an opportunity for his next big coup. For his plan, Lustig posed as deputy director general of the postal ministry.

In this position he created a tender for the sale of the Eiffel Tower. The scammer sent these to six Parisian scrap dealers and invited them for sales negotiations at one of the city’s best hotels. At that time, mainly diplomats and politicians stayed in the Hôtel de Crillon.

Therefore, the scrap dealers did not suspect anything when they received the invitation. All six showed up for their appointments. Lustig assured them that he had chosen them because of their impeccable reputation. He asked the traders to keep the negotiations secret, because a report about the demolition of the Eiffel Tower would cause a lot of commotion.

One scrap dealer was especially fond of Lustig. It was therefore clear to the scammer that he would enter into the deal with André Poisson. Only his wife was initially suspicious. However, Lustig managed to get away from this by pretending that he could be bribed because of his low salary – very normal for civil servants at the time.

This is how Victor Lustig actually managed to close the deal. He received at least a million francs as a bribe and down payment. Immediately after the deal was completed, Lustig left for Vienna. What was left was a surprised Poisson. He was so ashamed of falling for the scam that he decided not to report Lustig to the police.

In Vienna, escaped Victor Lustig also noticed this. Because not a single newspaper reported on the fraud. Therefore, the impostor decided to go to Paris again to sell the Eiffel Tower again to another victim. But this time the chosen scrap dealer became suspicious and Lustig reported the matter to the police. He fled back to the US as quickly as possible.

In the United States he again attracted attention as Count Lustig, partly through an attempt to deceive Al Capone. Lustig promised the infamous mafia boss that he would double his money within 60 days. But as time passed, Count Lustig only returned the original amount of $50,000. Capone, who had expected the money to be doubled or completely lost, was so impressed by Lustig’s honesty that he paid the fraudster $1,000.

Lustig died on March 11, 1947 in Springfield, Missouri. On his death certificate, the term “sales apprentice” was entered under “occupation”.

Niclas Staritz / t-online

Source: Blick



I am Ross William, a passionate and experienced news writer with more than four years of experience in the writing industry. I have been working as an author for 24 Instant News Reporters covering the Trending section. With a keen eye for detail, I am able to find stories that capture people's interest and help them stay informed.

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