Con Artists

Lord Gordon-Gordon (1871)

Lord Gordon-Gordon was the most famous alias of a nineteenth-century imposter whose specialty was posing as a wealthy Scottish landowner. He did this so well that he succeeded in convincing many people who really were wealthy to trust him with their money, which he then spent. His most famous victim was the railroad developer/robber baron Jay Gould, for which reason Gordon-Gordon is sometimes referred to as the "robber of the robber barons". The peak of Lord Gordon-Gordon's criminal career were the two years 1871 and 1872. He spent the next two years on the run, before committing suicide in 1874. more…

Professor Wingard’s Nameless Force (1876)

In February 1876, 'Professor' James C. Wingard of New Orleans announced he had invented a powerful new weapon that would utterly destroy any naval vessel, iron or otherwise, "so as to leave no trace of them in their former shape." Wingard was coy about the exact means by which his weapon operated. He would only say that it projected a "nameless force," which somehow involved the use of electricity, applied without any direct connection between the machine and the object to be destroyed -- and it supposedly worked at a distance of up to five miles, far beyond the range of any other gun or cannon. In other words, this was a nineteenth-century... more…

Cassie Chadwick (1904)

Between 1897 and 1904, Cassie Chadwick scammed millions of dollars from Ohio banks by claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie. The banks, believing they could charge Carnegie high interest rates, happily loaned her the money without asking too many questions. Chadwick had used a simple ruse to lay the groundwork for her scam. She had asked a Cleveland lawyer to accompany her to Carnegie's house. He waited in the carriage while she went inside to conduct her business. On the way out, she "accidentally" dropped a promissory note for $2 million, signed by Carnegie. When the lawyer saw the note, she told him her secret... more…

Charles Ponzi and the Ponzi Scheme (1920)

Charles Ponzi (1883-1949) Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant living in Boston in the early twentieth century, was said by his worshipful followers to have "discovered money." In fact, what he really discovered was a way to bilk the public out of millions of dollars by means of a financial pyramid scheme. There were pyramid schemes before Ponzi came along, but his was so outrageous that this type of scam has ever since borne his name. more…