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.
1981: The Guardian
reported that scientists at Britain's research labs in Pershore had "developed a machine to control the weather." The article, titled "Britain Rules the Skies," 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. Accompanying the article was a picture of a scruffy-looking scientists surrounded by scientific equipment. The picture was captioned, "Dr. Chisholm-Downright expresses quiet satisfaction as a computer printout announced sunshine in Pershore and a forthcoming blizzard over Marseilles."
In 1965 BBC TV featured an interview with a professor who had just invented a device called "smellovision." This miraculous technology allowed viewers to experience directly in their own home aromas produced in the television studio. The professor offered a demonstration by cutting some onions and brewing coffee. A number of viewers called in to confirm that they distinctly experienced these scents as if they were there in the studio with him. Since no aromas were being transmitted, whatever these viewers thought they smelled coming out of their tv sets must be chalked up to the power of suggestion.
After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, Americans firmly believed that there were no limits to his genius. Therefore, when the New York Graphic
announced in 1878 that Edison had invented a machine that could transform soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine, thereby ending the problem of world hunger, it found no shortage of willing believers.
Newspapers throughout America copied the article, heaping lavish praise on Edison. The conservative Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
was particularly effusive in its praise, waxing eloquent about Edison's brilliance in a long editorial. The Graphic
took the liberty of reprinting the Advertiser
's editorial in full, placing above it a simple, two-word headline: "They Bite!"
Numerous people throughout London received the following invitation: "Tower of LondonAdmit Bearer and Friend to view annual ceremony of Washing the White Lions on Sunday, April 1, 1860. Admittance only at White Gate. It is particularly requested that no gratuities be given to wardens or attendants." By twelve o'clock on April 1 a large crowd had reportedly gathered outside the tower. But of course, lions hadn't been kept in the tower for centuries, particularly not white liions. Therefore the crowd eventually snuck away disappointed. This prank had a very long pedigree. It had often been perpetrated (on a smaller scale) on unsuspecting out-of-towners, and an instance of it is recorded from as far back as 1698.
The British Daily Mail
announced that Esporta Health Clubs had launched a new line of socks designed to help people lose weight. Dubbed "FatSox," these revolutionary socks could actually suck body fat out of sweating feet. The invention promised to "banish fat for ever." The socks employed a patented nylon polymer called FloraAstraTetrazine that had been "previously only applied in the nutrition industry." The American inventor of this polymer was Professor Frank Ellis Elgood. The socks supposedly worked in the following way: as a person's body heat rose and their blood vessels dilated, the socks drew "excess lipid from the body through the sweat." After having sweated out the fat, the wearer could then simply remove the socks and wash them, and the fat, away.
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 lavish party was held at Jeff Koons's New York studio to honor the memory of the late, great American artist Nat Tate, that troubled abstract expressionist who destroyed 99 percent of his own work before leaping to his death from the Staten Island ferry. At the party superstar David Bowie read aloud selections from William Boyd's soon-to-be released biography of Tate, "Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960." Critics in the crowd murmured appreciative comments about Tate's work as they sipped their drinks. The only catch was that Tate had never existed. He was the satirical creation of William Boyd. Bowie, Boyd, and Boyd's publisher were the only ones in on the joke.
National Public Radio's All Things Considered
announced that the post office had begun a new 'portable zip codes' program. This program, inspired by an FCC ruling that allowed phone users to take their phone number with them when they moved, would allow people to also take their zip code with them when they moved, no matter where they moved to. It was hoped that with this new program zip codes would come to symbolize "a citizen's place in the demographic, rather than geographic, landscape." Assistant Postmaster General Lester Crandall was quoted as saying, "Every year millions of Americans are on the go: People who must relocate for work or other reasons. Those people may have been quite attached to their original homes or an adopted town or city of residence. For them this innovative measure will serve as an umbilical cord to the place they love best."
the Eldorado Daily Journal
, based in Illinois, announced a contest to see who could save the most daylight for daylight savings time. The rules of the contest were simple: beginning with the first day of daylight savings time, contestants would be required to save daylight. Whoever succeeded in saving the most daylight would win. Only pure daylight would be allowedno dawn or twilight light, though light from cloudy days would be allowed. Moonlight was strictly forbidden. Light could be stored in any container. The contest received a huge, nationwide response. The paper's editor was interviewed by correspondents from CBS and NBC and was featured in papers throughout the country.
The China Youth Daily
, an official state newspaper of China, announced on its front page that the government had decided to make Ph.D. holders exempt from the state-imposed one-child limit. The logic behind this decision was that it would eventually reduce the need to invite as many foreign experts into the country to help with the state's modernization effort. Despite a disclaimer beneath the story identifying it as a joke, the report was repeated as fact by Hong Kong's New Evening News
and by Agence France-Presse
, an international news agency. Apparently what made the hoax seem credible to many was that intellectuals in Singapore are encouraged to marry each other and have children, and China's leaders are known to have great respect for the Singapore system. The Chinese government responded to the hoax by condemning April Fool's Day as a dangerous Western tradition. The Guangming Daily
, Beijing's main newspaper for intellectuals, ran an editorial stating that April Fool's jokes "are an extremely bad influence." It went on to declare that, "Put plainly, April Fool's Day is Liar's Day."
All text Copyright © 2011 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.