Lessons in influence from the greatest con artist who ever lived
What Victor Lustig can teach us about getting our way
I don’t have many heroes but Victor Lustig is one of them. If you look at him, he doesn’t have a face that can inspire trust and yet he may have been the greatest con artist who ever lived. This is the man who sold the Eiffel Tower after all — not once, but twice. It’s worth wondering how he went about influencing people and whether it can be translated contructively into our lives.
In 1925 the French government was deciding what to do about the Eiffel Tower. At the time it was expensive to maintain and was falling into disrepair. Lustig read a newspaper article suggesting that public opinion was leaning towards removing it. Hard to imagine today but this gave Victor an idea. He hired a hotel suite and had official stationary forged before calling a group of scrap metal dealers in for a meeting.
Posing as a government representative he told them the tower was too expensive and he was in charge of finding someone to take charge of decommissioning it. He also stressed that due to the likely public outcry they would need to keep this to themselves. Having selected the most likely dealer from the group he then convinced him that he was a corrupt official. The dealer in question, André Poisson, was an ambitious man. Not only did he pay for the Eiffel Tower but he paid Victor Lustig a large bribe to ensure he won the tender.
After the con, Lustig fled to Austria and kept an eye on the newspapers. He reasoned that Poission would be too embarrassed to report this to the authorities and this was the case. So, he flew back to Paris and got another group of dealers together to repeat the con. This time didn’t end so well and Lustig wound up fleeing to America.
In America, Lustig continued his career. Highlights include:
- Conning Al Capone — a truly brave move as even being suspected would’ve resulted in an unpleasant demise
- Selling a machine that duplicated hundred dollar bills to a Sheriff. When confronted by the Sheriff later about this he paid him off in counterfeit money.
- Upon his capture by the FBI, his five year counterfeiting operation was such that Federal authorities were concerned about…