In late February a Dutch company calling itself The Honest Thief announced
that it would host a new, totally legal file-sharing service. It explained that it was able to do this, despite the lawsuits facing other file-sharing networks, because: "The Honest Thief is the first Dutch company to take advantage of a recent Dutch appeals court ruling that paved the way for the Netherlands to become the world's first legal haven for file sharing companies." Large amounts of press attention followed, including an article in the Wall Street Journal
. But visitors to The Honest Thief website
on April 1st were met with an announcement: April Fool! There was no legal file-sharing network. The hoax was a stunt to promote a book of the same name (The Honest Thief) by Pieter Plass.
By April 2000, the dot.com bubble was rapidly deflating. This didn't deter hundreds of Dutch investors from lining up to buy shares in F/rite Air, which was being billed as a hot new technology company backed by supporters such as Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and George Soros. The announcement about the company's IPO was posted on iex.nl, a financial web site for Dutch investors. It was reported that shares in the IPO could be reserved for $18 each by email, although it was said that analysts anticipated the stock soaring to above $80 on the first day of its filing. The company seemed like a sure thing, and almost immediately orders worth over $7 million flooded in. The orders didn't stop coming in even after the newspapers had revealed the IPO to be an April Fool's Day joke. F/rite air was a pun for 'Fried air' (i.e. Hot Air).
A Dutch radio program announced that the government planned to distribute its budget surplus equally among tax-payers. The announcement received an excited response from listeners. Unfortunately, it was not true.
The national news in the Netherlands reported that the Tower of Pisa had fallen over. The announcement caused widepread shock and mourning.
On April 1, 1572 Dutch rebels captured the town of Den Briel from Spanish troops led by Lord Alva. This military success eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands from Spain. A Dutch rhyme goes: "Op 1 april / Verloor Alva zijn Bril." This translates to: "On April 1st / Alva lost his 'glasses'". "Bril" means glasses in Dutch, but is also a pun on the name of the town, Den Briel. According to Dutch legend, the tradition of playing pranks on April 1st arose to commemorate the victory in Den Briel and humiliation of the Spanish commander.
The Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem in 1539 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what’s being done to him is an April 1st joke. The poem is titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach.“ This is late medieval Dutch meaning (roughly) “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.“ In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.“ (Thanks to Marco Langbroek for the Dutch translation.)
This appears to be the first clear reference to a custom of playing practical jokes on April 1st. Because of this reference, historians believe that April Fool’s Day may have originated in continental northern Europe and then spread to the British Isles.