Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time
As judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.
Note from the Curator: I created the first version of this list in the late 1990s. Back then, there was hardly any information collected about April Fool's Day pranks, so I had to do a lot of research in newspaper archives to put this together. Luckily I was in grad school, so I had a lot of spare time on my hands ;-).
Over the years I've tweaked the list, rearranging it slightly and adding new entries based on reader feedback and ongoing research, but my top choices have remained pretty much the same.
This list is easily the most popular article I've ever posted on the Museum of Hoaxes. Extracts from it (some attributed, some not) can be found on hundreds of other websites. Plus, it's inspired some spinoffs. A couple of years ago, someone created an iPhone app version of it (which I've never seen because I don't have an iPhone), and the folks at the Drama Pod created a dramatized audio version of it in 2011.
I hope you enjoy it — and if you know of any old hoaxes that I haven't mentioned on the site, send me an email and let me know.
On April 1, 1915, in the midst of World War I, a French aviator flew over a German camp and dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb. The German soldiers immediately scattered in all directions, but no explosion followed. After some time, the soldiers crept back and gingerly approached the bomb. They discovered it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, "April Fool!"
The British supermarket chain Tesco published an advertisement in The Sun
announcing the successful development of a genetically modified 'whistling carrot.' The ad explained that the carrots had been specially engineered to grow with tapered airholes in their side. When fully cooked, these airholes caused the vegetable to whistle.
Motorists driving along the scenic Rim of the World highway near Lake Arrowhead in Southern California discovered that the pine and cedar trees lining the road had all grown oranges overnight. The transformation was the work of the residents of the nearby town of Skyforest, led by the cartoonist Frank Adams. They had crept out during the night and strung 50,000 oranges in the trees along a one-mile section of the highway. The fruit was left over from the recent National Orange Show in San Bernardino.
An article by John Dvorak in PC Computing
magazine described a bill going through Congress that would make it illegal to use the internet while drunk, or to discuss sexual matters over a public network. The bill was supposedly numbered 040194 (i.e. 04/01/94), and the contact person was listed as Lirpa Sloof (April Fools backwards). The article said that the FBI was going to use the bill to tap the phone line of anyone who "uses or abuses alcohol" while accessing the internet. Passage of the bill was felt to be certain because "Who wants to come out and support drunkenness and computer sex?" The article offered this explanation for the origin of the bill: "The moniker 'Information Highway' itself seems to be responsible for SB 040194... I know how silly this sounds, but Congress apparently thinks being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind of highway it is." The article generated so many outraged phone calls to Congress that Senator Edward Kennedy's office had to release an official denial of the rumor that he was a sponsor of the bill.
A news release sent to the media stated that the 15th annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade was scheduled to begin at noon on 59th Street and would proceed down to Fifth Avenue. According to the release, floats in the parade would include a "Beat 'em, Bust 'em, Book 'em" float created by the New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle police departments. This float would portray "themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence." A "Where's Mars?" float, reportedly built at a cost of $10 billion, would portray missed Mars missions. Finally, the "Atlanta Braves Baseball Tribute to Racism" float would feature John Rocker who would be "spewing racial epithets at the crowd." CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW sent television news crews to cover the parade. They arrived at 59th Street at noon only to discover that there was no sign of a parade, at which point the reporters realized they had been hoaxed. The prank was the handiwork of Joey Skaggs
, an experienced hoaxer. Skaggs had been issuing press releases advertising the nonexistent parade every April Fool's Day since 1986.
In February 1708 a previously unknown London astrologer named Isaac Bickerstaff published an almanac in which he predicted the death by fever of the famous rival astrologer John Partridge. According to Bickerstaff, Partridge would die on March 29 of that year. Partridge indignantly denied the prediction, but on March 30 Bickerstaff released a pamphlet announcing that he had been correct: Partridge was dead. It took a day for the news to settle in, but soon everyone had heard of the astrologer's demise. Thus, on April 1st Partridge was woken by a sexton outside his window who wanted to know if there were any orders for his funeral sermon. Then, as Partridge walked down the street, people stared at him as if they were looking at a ghost or stopped to tell him that he looked exactly like someone they knew who was dead. As hard as he tried, Partridge couldn't convince people that he wasn't dead. Bickerstaff, it turned out, was a pseudonym for the satirist Jonathan Swift. His prognosticatory practical joke upon Partridge worked so well that the astrologer finally was forced to stop publishing his almanacs, because he couldn't shake his reputation as the man whose death had been foretold.
The Veterinary Record
, the weekly journal of the British veterinary profession, contained an article about the diseases of Brunus edwardii
, which was described as a species "commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America." The article warned:
Pet ownership surveys have shown that 63.8 percent of households are inhabited by one or more of these animals, and there is a statistically significant relationship between their population and the number of children in a household. The public health implications of this fact are obvious, and it is imperative that more be known about their diseases, particularly zoonoses or other conditions which might be associated with their close contact with man.
For months afterwards the correspondence section of the Veterinary Record
was dominated by letters about Brunus edwardii
, most of which offered new observations about the species. The article proved so popular that it was eventually published in a special edition by Whittington Press, although it was reported that the British Library later had difficulty deciding how to classify it, as fact or fiction. Brunus edwardii
is more commonly known as the "Teddy Bear".
The Madison Capital-Times
solemnly announced that the Wisconsin state capitol building lay in ruins following a series of mysterious explosions. The explosions were attributed to "large quantities of gas, generated through many weeks of verbose debate in the Senate and Assembly chambers." Accompanying the article was a picture showing the capitol building collapsing. Many readers were fooledand outraged. One reader wrote in declaring the hoax "was not only tactless and void of humor, but also a hideous jest." Nevertheless, in 1985 The Science Digest
named this as one of the best hoaxes ever.
In 1949 Phil Shone, a New Zealand deejay for radio station 1ZB, announced to his listeners that a mile-wide wasp swarm was headed towards Auckland. He urged them to take a variety of steps to protect themselves and their homes from the winged menace. For instance, he suggested that they wear their socks over their trousers when they left for work, and that they leave honey-smeared traps outside their doors. Hundreds of people dutifully heeded his advice, until he finally admitted that it had all been a joke. The New Zealand Broadcasting Service was not amused by Shone's prank. Its director, Professor James Shelley, denounced the hoax on the grounds that it undermined the rules of proper broadcasting. From then on, a memo was sent out each year before April Fool's Day reminding New Zealand radio stations of their obligation to report the truth, and nothing but the truth.
On Wednesday March 29, 1950, between the second and third acts of No Orchids for Miss Blandish
at Paris's Grand Guignol theater, actress Nicole Riche suddenly disappeared. Stage hands said she had been handed a note, went pale as she read it, walked outside, and then vanished. Unable to continue the play, the theater gave everyone in the audience their money back. The police, who suspected kidnapping, launched a massive manhunt. Her disappearance made headlines around the world. Some papers noted it was an odd coincidence that she had apparently been kidnapped while starring in a play about a woman who is kidnapped. Two days later, early on the morning of April 1st, Riche walked into a police station dressed in the same flimsy white negligee and furcoat she had been wearing during the play, plus a sweater she said some friendly gypsies had given her. She claimed she had been imprisoned for the past two days by "Puritans" who lectured her endlessly about her immoral lifestyle before finally abandoning her in a forest. The police were skeptical about her story since there's wasn't a speck of dirt or dust on her. Eventually Riche broke down and admitted she hadn't been abducted by Puritans. Her disappearance had been an April Fool's Day publicity stunt engineered by the Grand Guignol's manager, Alexandre Dundas.
All text Copyright © 2011 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.