By Ray Schultz
William France was a “common drunk” who rigged a lottery so that he won the grand prize himself. When he used the name of a competitor, Murray, Eddy & Co., on some of his envelopes, that firm complained that it was “being daily robbed by a man who, at the same time, swindles the public and makes the Post Office Department the innocent accomplice of his guilt.”
Murray, Eddy & Co. wasn’t any better. Its main offering, the Kentucky Lottery, had been chartered in 1838 to improve the water supply in Frankfurt, Kentucky—a project long since completed.
France and others like him invented devices that would later become standard in the trade. In 1861, Schoofield & Co., of Baltimore, sent a mailing for the Delaware State Lotteries. It went in a small brown envelope with Schoolfield’s name and post office box stamped on it—one of the first return envelopes. The note that went with it implied that a prize was a sure thing.
“Dear Sir: From what we can learn of Public Sentiment we are satisfied that there exists a strong feeling against Lotteries in Your State – and desiring to remove all such prejudices by selling a good Prize to some influential person in your locality who will give it publicity, – we take the liberty to enclose you a Scheme of the Consolidated Lottery of Delaware Drawing April 24th – Class 68.”
Another agent said that he was “anxious to sell you a prize and create an excitement in your neighborhood.” That evolved into this: “We are confident that if a good Prize was sold by us to some person in your neighborhood who would show the money and give it publicity that it would greatly extend our business and add to our reputation as Prize sellers. For this purpose, we have thought proper to tender you the Prize upon condition that you will use your influence among your acquaintances in our favor.”
Not all these letters explicitly stated that the person would win. But they inferred it, and by 1865 the mails were flooded with letters offering prizes to people who would show the money.