The Museum of Hoaxes
hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1868 1869-1913 1914-1949 1950-1976 1977-1989 1990s 2000s
The Hoax Archive — A collection of the most notorious deceptions throughout history
Technology Hoaxes
The Great Chess Automaton, 1770. Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen built what he claimed was a chess-playing "thinking machine". It consisted of a wooden figure dressed in Turkish clothes whose trunk emerged out of a large wooden box. When wound up, the figure played chess against human opponents, actually moving pieces on its own, and it almost always won. The secret was that a man was hidden in the box, controlling the movements of the wooden figure. Continue…
Redheffer’s Perpetual Motion Machine, 1812. In 1812 a Philadelphia man, Charles Redheffer, claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine that required no source of energy to run. He built a working model of the machine and applied for funds from the city government to build a larger version. But when inspectors from the city examined it, they realized that Redheffer had simply hidden the power source. To expose Redheffer, they commissioned a local engineer to build a similar machine,... Continue…
Keely Motor Company, 1875. John Worrell Keely founded the Keely Motor Company in 1875 in order to develop and commercialize his invention: a "vibratory generator" that required only a quart of water to generate the equivalent of the power needed to pull a fully-loaded train for over 75 minutes. Following successful demonstrations of this miraculous device in his workshop, investors rushed to give him money, even though the scientific community derided his claims. For... Continue…
Professor Wingard’s Nameless Force, 1876. In February 1876, 'Professor' James C. Wingard of New Orleans announced he had invented a powerful new weapon that would utterly destroy any naval vessel, iron or otherwise, "so as to leave no trace of them in their former shape." Wingard was coy about the exact means by which his weapon operated. He would only say that it projected a "nameless force," which somehow involved the use of electricity, applied without any direct connection between... Continue…
The Diaphote Hoax, 1880. On February 10, 1880 an article ran in the Daily Times (of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) describing a remarkable invention recently demonstrated by a local inventor, Dr. H.E. Licks. The invention allowed images to be transmitted by telegraph. In other words, it resembled what people today would recognize as a television. However, Licks called his invention a "diaphote," from the Greek dia meaning "through" and photos meaning "light". Continue…
Freund’s Electric Sugar Fraud, 1889. In the mid-1880s, Henry C. Freund showed up in New York, claiming he had invented a process that would revolutionize the sugar refining industry. He said he could refine one ton of raw sugar for 80 cents, whereas the techniques currently in use cost around $10 a ton. Plus, his method took only ten minutes, and it produced a high-quality granulated sugar, far finer than any seen before. But he insisted on keeping his process secret, disclosing... Continue…
The Gold Accumulator, 1896. Prescott Jernegan claimed he had found a way to cheaply extract gold from sea water. His "Gold Accumulator" consisted of a wooden box, inside of which was a pan of mercury mixed with a secret ingredient. A wire connected the mercury to a small battery. When lowered into the ocean, this contraption supposedly sucked gold out of the water. A test conducted in Narragansett Bay in February 1897 proved the gold accumulator worked. After a few hours... Continue…
The Worcester Aeroplane Hoax, 1909. Six years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight in a heavier-than-air craft, aviation technology was still fairly primitive. Planes could only fly a few miles. But in 1909, a Massachusetts inventor, Wallace Tillinghast, announced a breakthrough. He claimed to have built a plane capable of flying 300 miles, carrying three passengers, and maintaining a speed of 120 mph. But he refused to show the plane to anyone, saying he... Continue…
Instant Color TV, 1962. In 1962 there was only one tv channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. On April 1st of that year, the station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen. Stensson proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in.... Continue…
The Caltech Sweepstakes Caper, 1975. Caltech student Becky Hartsfield shows off the prizes she won. Caltech is known for producing world-class scientists and engineers. But a few of its students have also demonstrated a flair for the law, as a highly controversial 1975 prank that turned on the legalistic reading of a sweepstakes entry form proved. The sweepstakes in question was held by McDonald's. It ran from March 3rd to March 23rd, 1975, at 187 participating McDonald's... Continue…
The Attack of Captain Midnight, 1986. On 27 April 1986, late night HBO subscribers watching the movie "The Falcon and the Snowman" were surprised by a sudden interruption of service. A color bar test pattern appeared on the screen for 4 ½ minutes. It was accompanied by a text message: "Good Evening HBO from Captain Midnight. $12.95/month? No Way! (Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!)" Continue…
Spud Server, 2000. Getting a potato to power a clock is a popular high school chemistry project. The website Spud Server purported to take this concept a step further by using potatoes to power an internet server. Visitors to the site (which loaded extremely slowly) could marvel at their interactive participation in such a technological feat. The site reached the peak of its popularity in March 2000 when both USA Today and the BBC, among others, ran stories about... Continue…
The Microsoft iLoo, 2003. On 30 April 2003, MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, issued a press release announcing the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world’s first internet-enabled port-a-potty. The introduction of this product was described as part of Microsoft's effort to allow people to log on "anytime, any place, and anywhere." The iLoo, the press release promised, would include a wireless keyboard, a height-adjustable flat plasma screen, a six-channel... Continue…
The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot, 2004. The website of Colin Mayhew offered details on how this eccentric, but apparently brilliant, engineer had built an "autonomous crash-preventing robot" from the body of a BMW Mini Cooper r50. Video showed the humanoid robot in action, stopping a car from crashing into a wall. The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot was eventually revealed to be an elaborate viral marketing campaign designed to promote the new Mini Cooper. Continue…

Hoax Archive Categories
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.