Paul Collins traces the chain letter through its trickster history:

Like any truly great crooked scheme, it began in Chicago.

It was there in 1888 that one of the earliest known chain letters came from a Methodist academy for women missionaries. Up to its eyes in debt, that summer the Chicago Training School hit upon the notion of the "peripatetic contribution box"a missive which, in one founder's words, suggested that "each one receiving the letter would send us a dime and make three copies of the letter asking three friends to do the same thing." ...

[W]hat happened to Natalie Schenck, the teenager who nearly capsized her Long Island town with chain-letters for the Spanish-American War troops? The one who shook down a cascade of money, embarrassed a respected institution, and left government agencies tied up in knots?

Reader, need you even ask? She became a Wall Street banker.

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