By now, we’ve all heard Bernard Madoff’s tremendous fraud operation described as a “Ponzi scheme”—which moved the New York Times to revisit history’s famous schemer. Whereas Madoff purported to trade stocks, Charles Ponzi’s con revolved around selling international stamps with outdated exchange rates. In theory, it would have worked, but Ponzi soon began paying off investors with other investors’ money instead.
So why was Ponzi so famous? “He did it with such verve and charisma, and it attracted so much attention,” says a biographer. “It happened when newspapers were so focused on these kinds of things. And there is something quite sonorous about his name. There was a guy preceding him named Miller. A Miller scheme doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as happily.”