Over the last year, we covered a lot of weird yet interesting stories here at I’m A Useless Info Junkie. We talked about Mr. 880, The 1$ Counterfeiter, Charles Boycott, The Man Who Became Synonymous With Mass Avoidance, “The Man Who Never Was”, That Made It Possible For The Allies To Invade Sicily and many many more curious personalities.
Victor Lustig, is no exception and definitely deserves a place in the pantheon of con men. Because cheating is one thing, but selling the Eiffel Tower and tricking Al Capone is an entirely different story.
Here’s his interesting story. (the article continues after the ad)
Victor Lustig was born in 1890 in Hostinné, Austria-Hungary. Early on in his criminal career, he would go on and meet wealthy passengers sailing with ocean liners to whom he would sell money-printing machines. Of course, by the time his victims would realize that the machines didn’t work and they’ve been scammed, Lustig had fled and was nowhere to be found.
As the years went by though, he went on to pull off some high earning scams. Such as selling the Eiffel Tower.
The idea of selling the Eiffel Tower came to him in the mid-1920s. You see, at the time there was the notion that the famous structure, which was built for the 1889 World’s Fair, was going to last only 20 years, and then was going to be destroyed because it was both expensive to maintain and unwanted by most citizens of the French capital. When Lustig read about this, he began visiting scrap-metal dealers, he introduced himself as a government official and informed them that the tower was going to be demolished. It didn’t take long for the scam to succeed: one dealer bribed him in order for his company to secure the winning bid for the job. Lustig took a hefty sum and got away with it. Even when the dealer found out that he’d been duped, he did not press charges as he was too embarrassed to do so. Interestingly, even Al Capone himself couldn’t escape this smooth con man.
When Lustig made his way to America, he continued to pull off a variety of scams by adopting fake identities. In the early 1930s he even persuaded Al Capone to invest in a deal that would allegedly “double his money”. After a short period, he returned the money and stated to the infamous mobster that his scheme didn’t work out. Impressed by his supposed honesty, Capone paid him a reward!
In 1935, New York officials caught up with Lustig and he was convicted and sent to Alcatraz. He died in 1947.