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Griswold's Billion Dollar Prank

You are Pierre Lorillard IV, heir to a vast tobacco fortune. As a Lorillard, you move in the highest social circles and are considered to be a pillar of New York's Fifth Avenue society, even though you live 40 miles north of Manhattan.

As you stroll the sidewalks of New York City this fine autumn day, you look toward the harbor and see a mountain of unsightly crates that are said to hold a gigantic statue of a woman holding a torch and wearing a crown. There has been quite a local ruckus about whether to assemble the statue or ship it back to the French. You vote for shipping it back. Your son, Griswold, however, thinks it should be installed on an island in the harbor where it can greet the incoming immigrants. Young men can be so impulsive. You turn and wave to the Roosevelts, making direct eye contact with "Teddy," the one they say has political aspirations. Perhaps it will someday prove helpful to know him.

Your principal concern at the moment, however, is that it's time once again for the Autumn Ball in the small community where you live. You were hoping to wear something a little less formal than the short, black jacket with the extremely long, split tails that has become the standard of men's formalwear. At your request, a Manhattan tailor has designed several new, black formal jackets and you're on your way to look at them.

Arriving at the tailor's shop to examine the jackets, you are instantly chagrined, wondering if perhaps a friend has bribed the tailor to play an elaborate joke on you. Though you are more than a little angry, you smile sweetly as you gently decline to pay for the jackets, saying only, "No. I fear these simply won't do at all." You then walk unceremoniously out of his shop, thinking, "Let him eat those jackets for his supper. No tailor will make a fool out of me."

Later that evening, you are stunned as your son, Griswold, swaggers into the party with his friends. They're all wearing the black jackets that you, earlier that very afternoon, declined! You listen with rising horror as murmurs ripple across the room, "But those jackets are shaped exactly like the bright red jackets the English wear when they're out hunting foxes!" To make matters worse, Griswold and his friends are wearing red vests beneath the tailless, black riding coats. Throughout the evening, the boys smile broadly and say, "Yes, we're hunting foxes," as they glance at the young ladies about the room. You leave the Autumn Ball early, certain that you will never live down the shame of this night. A few days later, you are relieved to learn that the boys' lofty charm and social status has resulted in their outfits being imitated rather than condemned.

Today, the sale and rental of those jackets brings in more than half a billion dollars a year in the United States alone. It's impossible to imagine a wedding or a high school prom without them. And we owe it all to a silly prank played in 1886 by Griswold Lorillard and his pals on the evening of the Autumn Ball in a little community north of New York City known as Tuxedo Park.

Roy H. Williams

~ Roy H. Williams

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Invisible Heroes is a collection of more than 100 biographical stories written by Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads. You can read a few of these stories in the archives of this web page, but most of them are inaccessible because they're soon to be published in a book.

We create our heroes from our hopes and dreams. And then they create us in their own image.Heroes raise the bar we jump and hold high the standards we live by. They're the embodiment of all we're striving to be.

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