How Voltaire became a millionaire —- The Paris lottery of 1729
Today Voltaire is known as one of the great philosophers and writers of the Enlightenment However, Voltaire not only had a great wealth of literary talent and knowledge, but an endless supply of monetary wealth as well. Voltaire did not amass this fortune from writing books alone but by making a smart gamble in the Paris Lottery of 1729.
In the 1720’s Voltaire had been exiled to England for speaking out against the French Monarchy. In 1729 he was granted permission to live openly in Paris. During that time the French government began a monthly lottery in Paris to raise money in an attempt to stabilize the French bond market. Once in Paris he met up with some old friends, among them a talented mathematician named Charle Marie de la Condamine. La Condimine studied the odds of winning the Paris Lottery and noticed an incredible loophole and embarrassing error made by the commissioner of the lottery; the total value of the prize money was far greater than the total value of all tickets sold. If someone could corner the market in lottery tickets, thus winning the lottery, he could make a very handsome profit.
Voltaire and La Condimine organized a special syndicate of friends who invested money into the organization. The syndicate then purchased every single ticket in Paris. They continued this practice for over a year, raking in a fortune with each drawing. The commissioner of the lottery, Le Pellatier Desforts, eventually caught on to his mistake and Voltaire’s scheme. He tried to change the rules of the lottery, an act which the courts ruled as illegal. By the end of the lottery Voltaire’s share of the winnings amounted to 1 million francs at a time when 15,000 francs was considered a large sum of money. He immediately took his winnings and invested in a company which provided supplies for the French Army, a smart move considering France was in near perpetual warfare with its old nemesis Britain. The investment paid off, and Voltaire quickly tripled his wealth. In the decades to come Voltaire would continue to make smart investments, managing his wealth and finances carefully and shrewdly, making him one of the richest men in Europe.