April Fool's Day, 1996
The Taco Liberty Bell
The fast food chain Taco Bell took out a full page ad in the New York Times
to announce that they were purchasing the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Their reason for doing this was to "do their part to reduce the country's debt." In a related release, the company pointed out that corporations had been adopting highways for years, and that Taco Bell was simply "going one step further by purchasing one of the country's greatest historic treasures." Thousands of people called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the Liberty Bell was housed to angrily protest the selling of the bell. Taco Bell kept a straight face until noon, at which point it revealed that the earlier press releases were jokes. Soon afterwards Mike McCurry, the White House spokesperson, responded to the jest by declaring that the federal government would also be "selling the Lincoln Memorial to Ford Motor Company and renaming it the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial." The hoax paid off for Taco Bell. Their sales during the first week of April shot up by over half a million dollars.
Life Discovered on Jupiter
The internet-based service America Online grew rapidly throughout the 1990s, demonstrating the power of the internet to serve as a new basis for mass communication. By 1996 it had gained five million subscribers, all of whom were greeted with a news flash that read, "Government source reveals signs of life on Jupiter," when they logged onto the service on April 1. This headline was backed up by statements from a planetary biologist and an assertion by Ted Leonsis, AOL's president, that his company was in possession of documents that proved the government was hiding the existence of life on the massive planet. The story quickly generated over 1300 messages on AOL, and hundreds of people called the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California trying to obtain more details about the discovery. When it turned out to be a prank, many questioned whether the service had risked losing its credibility by perpetrating such a stunt, but AOL dismissed these concerns. A spokeswoman for the company later explained that the hoax had been intended as a tribute to Orson Welles' 1938 halloween broadcast
of the "War of the Worlds."
Text copyright © 2002 Alex Boese