Edison’s Food Machine. (1878)
After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, Americans were sure there was no limit to his genius. So when the New York Graphic announced on April 1, 1878 that Edison had invented a machine capable of transforming soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine, thereby ending the problem of world hunger, it found a willing audience of believers.
Newspapers throughout America copied the article and heaped lavish praise on Edison. The conservative Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, in particular, waxed eloquent about Edison's genius in an editorial that dwelled upon the good fortune of a man like Edison having been born in the progressive nineteenth century when his genius could be appreciated. "Let steady-going people whose breath has been taken away by the pace we seem to be driving at just now, take heart therefore," it declared. "And be thankful that the genius of true benefactors of the race, like Edison, cannot now be crippled and blighted by superstition and bigotry, as it was when Galileo was forced to recant the awful heresy that two and two make four."
The New York Graphic reprinted the Advertiser's editorial in full. Above the article it placed a single, gloating headline: "They Bite!"
Man Flies By Own Lung Power. (1934)
In April 1934, many American newspapers (including The New York Times) printed a photo of a man flying through the air by means of a device powered by the breath from his lungs. The man, identified as German pilot Erich Kocher, was said to be blowing into a box on his chest, which activated rotors that created a powerful suction effect, lifting him aloft. Skis on his feet served as landing gear, and a tail fin allowed him to steer.
The photo was actually a joke from the April Fool's Day edition of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung.
The Cloud Cinema. (1936)
The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung reported that a "cloud cinema" had debuted in Berlin. Five massive lenses projected a moving image onto a cloudy sky. The picture, visible throughout much of the city, measured 1000x750 meters, "four times as long and three times as high as the new zeppelin is long."
The image was, at present, slightly blurry, but improvements were promised in the future. And on days without cloud cover, it was planned to create artificial clouds via fog machines attached to balloons.
In its subsequent issue, the magazine admitted, "All the angels would watch and be stirred out of their peace if the cloud cinema of our April edition were true."
War Bird Over Waikiki. (1940)
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that Norwegian scientist Thorkel Gellison (fellow of the King Haakon Loof Lirpa Society) had invented wings that allowed men to fly. He had recently demonstrated his invention in Hawaii. He had also supplied these wings to the Finnish army, leading the Russians to decide to move for a truce with Finland.
The Victory Garden Gadget Company. (1943)
The Elkhart, Indiana Daily Truth reported on a local company that manufactured devices such as the "Chasemaway" to protect Victory Gardens:
"The 'Chasemaway' is merely an adaptation of an old idea. A small phonograph, with loud-speaker attachment, is to operate at regular intervals. Every hour, on the hour, for example, the mechanism will start, and the 'Chasemaway' will shout, 'Gitthelloutahere.' This one is designed primarily for use in the rural areas; more refined language will be provided for those sold for use in town."More…
The Yonghy Bonghy Bo. (1957)
Rear Admiral Tully Shelley, managing director of a company of oil refinery and construction engineers, designed a match striking machine as an April Fool's Day joke. He called it his "Yonghy Bonghy Bo" (an allusion to Edward Lear's poem, "The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo"). However, the machine actually did work and could be used to light a cigarette.
The Glossoresonator. (1963)
In the week before April 1st, the New York Telephone company announced that it planned to use a new transistorized device called a "Glossoresonator" to intercept prank calls to the Bronx zoo. It noted that on the last April 1, 929 prank calls had been made to the zoo. However, it declined to explain exactly how the glossoresonator worked.
But when April 1st arrived, the company admitted that no such device existed. Nor had its announcement done anything to deter pranksters from calling the zoo. 755 hoax calls were intercepted by operators.
BBC TV interviewed a London University professor who had perfected a technology he called "smellovision," allowing viewers to smell aromas produced in the television studio in their homes. The professor explained that his machine broke scents down into their component molecules which were then transmitted through the screen.
The professor demonstrated by placing some coffee beans and onions into the smellovision machine. He asked viewers to report by noon whether they had smelled anything. Numerous viewers called in from across the country to confirm that they had distinctly experienced these scents. Some claimed the onions made their eyes water.
Dial-O-Fish. (circa 1970?)
Australia's This Day Tonight ran a segment about the "Dial-O-Fish," a new electronic fishing rod that could be set to catch any desired species. A "fishing expert" demonstrated how to use the device. First he dialed up garfish, and soon had caught half a dozen. Next he dialed up tommy ruff. Hundreds of viewers reportedly called in wanting to know where to buy one, and a Japanese manufacturer declared it was ready to go into production immediately.
The British Weather Machine. (1981)
The Guardian reported that scientists at Britain's research labs in Pershore had "developed a machine to control the weather." A series of articles explained that, "Britain will gain the immediate benefit of long summers, with rainfall only at night, and the Continent will have whatever Pershore decides to send it." Readers were also assured that Pershore scientists would make sure that it snowed every Christmas in Britain. A photograph showed a scruffy-looking scientist surrounded by scientific equipment, with the caption, "Dr. Chisholm-Downright expresses quiet satisfaction as a computer printout announces sunshine in Pershore and a forthcoming blizzard over Marseilles."
Energy From Starlight. (2008)
Norwegian energy company Statkraft released a video announcing they had developed a way to generate power from starlight:
"Our planet needs more energy pure energy. And thanks to pioneering Norwegian technology we may be able to provide it. The energy source of the future is starpower...
When stars explode, gamma rays with vast amounts of energy are hurled out into space. Now game capturers will be placed in orbit around the earth to capture this energy. This pioneering breakthrough has been developed by researchers and engineers from Statkraft."More…
The Kodak eyeCamera 4.1. (2009)
Kodak debuted the "eye camera," which featured a "what you see is what you get" viewfinder, Facial Recall Assistant (handy for parties and reunions), Image Stabilizer (perfect for taking pictures after a glass of wine or two), Digital X-Ray Vision (developed in partnership with the Superman Corporation located in the Fortress of Solitude), and a SuperZoom attachment.
Teleportation Machine. (2013)
The University of Michigan College of Engineering released a video revealing that their researchers had created a teleportation machine. Materials Science Prof. Xavier Vlad demonstrated how he could teleport a small key from one end of the machine to the other. He further explained that the process was discovered by accident — just like the discovery of Post-It notes.