The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, Twice
Victor Lustig was born in 1890 in the Austria-Hungarian town of Hostinné. He led his life of crime. He performed criminal activities for a living, petty crimes like, but not limited to, shop lifting and pick pocketing. As time passed, he became a full time criminal and subsequently performed bigtime crimes – Image source – sites.psu.edu

In the annals of con artistry, few tales are as brazen or as audacious as that of Victor Lustig, the man who sold the Eiffel Tower. Not once, but twice. This remarkable story unfolds in 1925 Paris, a city still reeling from the aftermath of World War I and ripe for the machinations of a skilled swindler.

Victor Lustig was born in 1890 in what is now the Czech Republic and was known for his charm and fluency in multiple languages, which made him a particularly effective con artist. By the time he arrived in Paris, Lustig had already amassed a fortune through various scams across Europe and the United States. However, it was in Paris that he would orchestrate one of the most legendary cons in history.

The idea struck Lustig one spring day as he read a newspaper article about the dilapidated state of the Eiffel Tower. The article discussed the tower’s escalating maintenance costs and hinted at difficulties surrounding its upkeep. Seizing on this information, Lustig devised a plan so daring that it seemed almost implausible.

Posing as a government official, Lustig had counterfeit government stationery made which bore the official letterhead of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes. He sent out letters to five prominent scrap metal dealers in Paris, inviting them to a confidential meeting at one of the city’s most prestigious hotels. The businessmen were informed that they had been selected to participate in a bidding process for a project of national importance—the dismantling of the Eiffel Tower.

Upon their arrival, Lustig, who introduced himself under an alias, explained that due to the tower’s poor condition and exorbitant upkeep costs, the French government had decided to sell it for scrap. To make his proposal more credible, he took his unsuspecting victims on a guided tour of the Eiffel Tower, pointing out areas that he claimed were structurally unsound and too expensive to repair.

The scam was convincing. After all, Lustig looked and acted every part the government official with his impeccable attire and authoritative demeanor. Moreover, his detailed knowledge of the tower’s supposed issues lent credence to his claims. Following the tour, he invited bids for the project and urged secrecy, citing public outcry as a potential issue if news of this sale were leaked prematurely.

One of the dealers, André Poisson, was particularly eager to secure what he saw as a lucrative deal. Sensing Poisson’s naivety and desperation to clinch this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Lustig targeted him specifically. Poisson eventually agreed to pay a handsome bribe for exclusive rights to dismantle the Eiffel Tower—a decision driven by both greed and fear of missing out on such a profitable venture.

After receiving payment, Lustig quickly left Paris. It was only when Poisson grew suspicious of delays in receiving further instructions and contacted government officials that he realized he had been duped. Humiliated but wiser, Poisson initially decided against going to police fearing public ridicule but eventually sought legal help when he realized no legitimate avenues existed to reclaim his money.

Remarkably enough, despite this close call with law enforcement following Poisson’s complaint, Lustig returned to Paris several months later and attempted to pull off the same scam again with another group of scrap dealers. However, this time rumors about his previous con had circulated within business circles making it harder for him to find new victims.

Victor Lustig’s audacity in selling one of France’s most iconic landmarks not once but twice is a testament to his skills as a con artist. His story remains one of history’s most fascinating examples of criminal ingenuity—highlighting how charisma and cleverness can manipulate reality itself. Eventually captured by authorities on unrelated charges years later in America, Lustig’s legacy lives on as an enduring reminder that sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, a real life, “I’ve got a bridge for sale” story.

Don Leith

By Don Leith

Retired from the real world. A love of research left over from my days on the debate team in college long ago led me to work on this website. Granted, not all these stories are "fun" or even "trivial" But they all are either weird, unusual or even extraordinary. Working on this website is "fun" in any case. Hope you enjoy it!