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The Prize Soap Racket

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This is the story of Jefferson Randolph Smith II, also known as “Soapy Smith”. After building a crew of outlaws and con-men, Randolph set to work conning the people of America. It started with classic swindles, shell games and the like. Though Soapy Smith is mostly known for his con involving soap, nicknamed by the Denver Post: “the Prize Soap Racket”.


Smith would begin by standing a display case atop a tripod (an arrangement known then as a “tripe and keister”). Within the case was held a selection of paper-wrapped bars of soap and several unwrapped bars as well. As people walked by, Smith would proclaim the soap’s wondrous abilities while wrapping the remaining bars in paper. He also placed money, ranging from dollar bills to hundred dollar bills, in with the select bars he was wrapping (making sure everyone could see him doing so).

Smith's display of soap

Smith’s display of soap

Inquisitive members of the public would watch, wide-eyed, as Smith placed these money filled bars of soap onto the tripe and keister. Thus, the money-filled packages were mixed with the packages of plain soap and would be sold for a dollar a piece. The first person to  buy a bar would exclaim that he had won money from his bar of soap and immediately the crowd would begin buying all of Smith’s soap.

A photo of Soapy Smith (left) and two associates

A photo of Soapy Smith (left) and two associates

Of course, the first purchase was made by one of Smith’s partners (planted in the audience) and the rest of the bars were not actually filled with any money. Through the subtle use of slight-of-hand, Smith would replace the money-filled bars so that no money could actually be won. Across western states he became known as “Soapy Smith” due to the con becoming so successful. So much so that he continued to use it for twenty years, creating criminal empires from Colorado to Alaska.


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