Imagine being told the Eiffel Tower is for sale. Sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it? Like, can such an iconic and culturally significant building even be sold? Well, one man pulled it off — not once, but twice. As a result, his legendary acts went down in history, flummoxing officials and entertaining readers to this day. But how exactly did a single person manage the double con of a century — without being caught?
The man in question was Victor Lustig, and it all began when he read a newspaper in Paris. In it was an article that claimed the Eiffel Tower was falling apart and was badly in need of maintenance — something the French government simply couldn’t afford. The story hypothesized that the tower might be removed altogether, which gave Lustig an idea.
Getting the gear
To begin his big scheme, Lustig hired a forger to print him a fake ID and fake government stationery. With all the gear and all the ideas, he then made his way to a fancy hotel called the Hôtel de Crillon, which sits at the bottom of the Champs-Élysées. And his next step involved selecting five key Parisian scrap metal dealers for a secret rendezvous.
Once Lustig had gotten all five dealers in the room, he introduced himself as an official from the department of public buildings. And he then carefully and thoroughly outlined what he said was a controversial, and discreet, government decision: the Eiffel Tower would have to be sold for scrap. “Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory,” he supposedly explained.
The unlucky target
Several of the dealers were no doubt wary, but one of them, André Poisson, was seemingly less experienced and anxious for a chance to establish himself. Lustig saw the perfect target and selected Poisson as the man for the deal. Lustig arranged to meet Poisson privately the next day to talk over the details — but this time, Poisson confessed he, too, was doubtful. Ever the resourceful con artist, Lustig turned on the charm and deception.