5 Hilariously Ballsy Cons Pulled Off By Historical Figures
When you think about how celebrities spend their time, you picture them idling by a pool being served fancy cocktails all day, not counting cards or fixing horse races to make a living. But everyone has it rough sometimes, and it turns out that in order to make ends meet, some of history's most revered figures could lie and con with the best of them.
George Washington Won An Election By Getting Voters Shitfaced
For all the shit Trump is getting over how he possibly, maybe colluded with Russia during the last election, chances are we'd be having a similar conversation if he got himself elected using the same method that the nation's most beloved president, George Washington, employed to bust his way into political office. In 1758, Washington was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses by bribing the electorate with shitloads of alcohol.
This wasn't Washington's first attempt at getting into the House of Burgesses. In 1755, he campaigned and was roundly defeated, which he attributed to not "swilling the planters with bumbo" -- "bumbo" being a word for rum used by people already drunk on bumbo. See, back then, election days were times to party. And if you wanted people to come over to your side, you had to be a good host. And what does a good host/politician provide? Economic reform. Wait, no, booze.
When the next election rolled around, Washington was ready. On voting day, his agents dispensed a whopping 47 gallons of beer, 70 gallons of rum, 35 gallons of wine, two gallons of cider, and three pints of brandy. But this wasn't enough! Despite greasing the wheels with enough alcohol (and vomit) to become king of Boston, he had the sheer balls to admonish his chief of staff for being too sparing. Three pints of brandy? Don't be that guy, guy.
Thankfully, the lack of brandy didn't matter. Thanks to his newfound spirits of hospitality, Washington destroyed his rivals, receiving 310 votes -- 70 more than the second-place candidate. And so the future first president of the United States finally got enough people drunk to think that voting for him was a good idea.
The Steves Jobs And Woz Started Out As Hackers
The overuse of the term "hack" almost makes you wish for the olden days of computing (the late '70s), when the only things being hacked were telephones and the Democrats (because some things never go out of style). And when it came to the former, there were no more notorious hackers than the Blue Box Bandits, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
"Blue boxes" were numeric keypadded boxes that could replicate the multifrequency tones used by the telephone network to place calls, allowing owners to dial as many numbers as they liked free of charge. Steve "Wozniak" Woz became fascinated with this "phone phreaking" while reading an article in Esquire about a guy who hacked frequencies with a whistle he got in a Cap'n Crunch cereal box. He immediately called his buddy, 16-year-old Stevie Jobs, and told him all about it. Woz then set out to make a blue box of his own.
After getting berated by Jobs for not making it white and grey.
What did he use it for? Long-distance prank calls, mostly. Once, he almost got in touch with the pope by pretending to be Henry Kissinger, until a bishop figured out Kissinger probably didn't sound like a high-pitched nerd from Central California.
But Jobs, always the entrepreneur, thought of a better use for Wozniak's new and improved blue boxes: money. He figured that they could easily double their money by offering their blue box services to college kids eager to not spend their monthly allowance on calling their high school sweethearts again. Thanks to strenuously rehearsed double-team act "where I was the emcee talking 'bout all the folklore of phone phreaking Steve was there to do the sales and money," they succeeded, making the '70s equivalent of thousands of dollars. There's no word on how much of these profits Jobs screwed Woz out of, but you just know that it was a lot.
Apollo 15's Crew Smuggled A Bunch of Stamps Into Space To Make Mad $$$
If packing for a vacation is the world's most stressful experience, can you imagine what packing for a trip into the terrifying void of space entails? Just trying to figure out which of your underwear is facehugger-jumpscare-proof must be a nightmare. So why on (or off) Earth would a bunch of astronauts waste valuable flamethrower fuel space by packing a bunch of stamps? If you're the crew of Apollo 15, it's because you know that going to space will make you famous, but bringing something back will make you rich.
The whole scheme, planned by a stamp collector known only as "Siegel," was simple: On launch day, 398 postal covers were taken to a local post office to be stamped with the date (to ensure a high value) and smuggled aboard by Commander David Scott in the pocket of his spacesuit, which he would wear while walking on the moon. They had to be smuggled in, because all reported personal items taken into space are forbidden to be sold for profit, and that's exactly what Siegel wanted to do with them. The crew got to keep the 298 stamps and an additional $7,000 each -- all Siegel wanted was the remaining 100. That's how rich he knew he'd be from selling "moon stamps" to nerds.
"To infinity, and beyond!" -- Siegel to his bank account
The crew returned and the booty was divided four ways without any fuss. However, when Siegel started to advertise his new line of merchandise, NASA promptly flipped their shit at this tawdry use of their multi-billion-dollar expedition. Congress launched an investigation, and astronauts Scott, Alfred Worden, and James Irwin were permanently removed from flight crew, making them the first people to be banned from space.
Of course, Apollo 15 wasn't the first time that astronauts had used space to make a fast buck. The crew of Apollo 14 were similarly reprimanded (though not banned) for flying 200 commemorative medals into space on behalf of Franklin Mint, which they then sold for profit to 12-year-olds everywhere.
A plot that NASA is one or two more budget cuts away from redoing with fidget spinners.
If there's a take-home lesson for NASA, it's this: If you don't want the people pretending to have landed on the moon to sell souvenirs, pay them more than SAG minimum.
Napoleon Cheated At Cards. Badly.
Napoleon wasn't the minuscule man pop culture makes him out to be; he was actually of average height. So instead of being a bastard as a way of overcompensating for his height, which lends him some sympathy, he was just a bastard. And not just on the battlefield. This bastardom also manifested itself in his habit of cheating at cards.
The emperor's stated favorite game was blackjack, but in truth, his favorite game was "not losing." Recognizing that he was a really bad player, Napoleon resorted to less honorable ways to win. He was, however, not the subtlest cheat. When he was dealt his cards, he would keep them facedown so no one could see them. If the dealer got a good hand, he would fold, but if the dealer went bust, he would simply declare himself the winner, throw his cards in the pile, and collect his winnings -- with no one daring to check if he had in fact won. This is the kind of cheating that only works if you can have everyone else at the table executed for insubordination.
But even with the odds blatantly arranged in his favor, Napoleon was still a sore loser. On the rare occasion that he still got on a losing streak, or when his cheating ways were called out by family (whom he couldn't order to shut up), he'd sullenly stomp away from the table and lock himself away like a fucking child. We're surprised that our sources don't later describe him coming back to blow up the gaming table and declare himself Emperor of the Smoldering Embers.
He wasn't a complete bastard, though. If he had a particularly successful run, he would divide his winnings between the players at the table. It wasn't as noble as, say, giving all of the winnings back to the dealers he cheated them from, but as he liked to remind his noble guests: "You are rich, you can afford to lose, but I am poor and must win." You don't become an emperor for the money.
Nikola Tesla Skipped Out On A Hotel Room Using A Fake Death Ray
It's fair to say that popular culture has kinda typecast Nikola Tesla as a tortured genius, unappreciated in his own time but now proudly honored on nerdy T-shirts everywhere. His incredible intellect didn't leave much room for worldliness, which left him a victim of trickery several times over. But don't be fooled -- Tesla was capable of being a wily bastard himself when he needed to be. And when was that? Whenever he was asked to pay a hotel bill.
As we've mentioned before, Tesla had a habit of taking over rooms in New York's finest hotels and covering them in pigeon poop. One such establishment to suffer this treatment was the Governor Clinton Hotel. When the time came for the hotel to collect from their guest, he had little to offer, being, y'know, a famously deadbeat inventor. So he made them a deal. If they let him live there a little longer, he'd give them an amazing piece of collateral: a never-before-seen invention worth $10,000. The only stipulation was that they never open it, "it" being incredibly dangerous. The device was so dangerous, in fact, that it could zap entire armies to death with a press of the button. It wasn't a death ray -- that would be silly. According to Tesla, it was more of a "death beam," if anything. Sure, Tesla, it's the "ray" part of the name that gives that weapon a bad rap.
The hotel immediately jumped on the offer, because what establishment hosting dozens of sleeping guests wouldn't want a deadly superweapon in their break room? When the deal had been struck, Tesla hightailed it out of the hotel, never to return. The invention was tucked away inside the Governor Clinton and all but forgotten. Then, when Tesla died in 1943, someone remembered his spare death beam was still in their basement. They also remembered his dire warning and, realizing that the only man able to disarm it was dead, went into a bit of a panic. The hotel called MIT and the NDRC, who sent over their best man, John "The One Who Got All The Brains" Trump, to look it over. The brave Trump (first and last time you'll ever read that) opened Tesla's box, but instead of being blown away by an experimental death beam, all he found were some useless electrical components Tesla had left in there. It was a ruse, the equivalent of sticking a banana in your pocket and holding up a bank. And it worked. It's one those the hidden benefits of being a crazy genius, we suppose. Say you have a death ray in your pocket, and people tend to believe you.
Sorry, sorry, death beam.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook. He also has a newsletter about depressing history, if you're into that sort of thing.
Also check out 8 Famous People That History Got Almost Exactly Wrong and 6 Famous People With Shocking Criminal Backgrounds.
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