7 Greatest April Fools’ Day Pranks In History
What makes a great April Fools’ Day joke? It helps if it’s silly or funny, doesn’t hurt people except perhaps a slight bruise to one’s ego for believing the story, and is something people can laugh at themselves for being fooled over.
While the average prankster might put a whoopee cushion on your chair or tape a paper fish to your back, these pranksters truly went above and beyond to fool hundreds or even thousands of people.
Here are the seven greatest April Fools’ Day pranks in history.
The Spaghetti-Tree Hoax
When the BBC aired a fake news segment on April 1, 1957 for the investigative documentary show Panorama, they earned an eternal spot in the April Fools’ Day Hall of Fame.
The two-and-a-half-minute news segment (which you can watch on YouTube) showed Swiss “spaghetti farmers” harvesting the annual “spaghetti crop” by plucking spaghetti from trees, and claimed that “vast spaghetti plantations” existed.
“After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm sun,” the broadcast told viewers.
Perhaps because respected news anchor Richard Dimbleby narrated the segment and spaghetti was not widely eaten in the UK at the time, the BBC received hundreds of phone calls from people asking how they could grow their own spaghetti.
The BBC’s response to callers best defines the British humor style of “taking the mickey”: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
The Taco Liberty Bell
Taco Bell learned a lesson in 1996 when they took out a full-page ad in six major newspapers. Readers of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and USA Today learned that Taco Bell, in an effort to help reduce the country’s debt, had purchased the Liberty Bell and changed its name to the “Taco Liberty Bell.”
The prank was taken so seriously that aides from the staffs of Senator Bill Bradley and Senator J. James Exon called Taco Bell headquarters. In Philadelphia, the National Park Service held a mid-morning news conference to assure the public that the Liberty Bell had not been sold.
By noon, Taco Bell confessed to the hoax and hoped people had liked its joke. Taco Bell also donated $50,000 to the Park Service to help maintain the Liberty Bell. There was still quite a lot of upset by those who’d been fooled and couldn’t laugh at themselves for being taken in.
Instant Color TV
On April 1, 1962, eight years before regular color broadcasts aired on Swedish television, the Swedish national network presented an expert who explained to its viewers that their old black-and-white TVs didn’t need to be upgraded.
A so-called expert gave a presentation revealing that light could be bent by a fine mesh screen to make black-and-white images appear in color.
The kicker? Nylon stockings could be used to make such a screen. Reportedly, thousands of people fell for the joke and tried putting nylons over their TV screens.
Digital Big Ben
Apparently the BBC didn’t learn their lesson after the Spaghetti-Tree Hoax, because in 1980 its overseas service reported that Big Ben was going to be updated as a digital clock.
They not only fooled many people who called in to express their anger, but they also fooled one man who called in hoping to win one of Big Ben’s clock hands in a fake giveaway.
In 1998, a joke news article circulated online reporting that the Alabama state legislature narrowly passed a law redefining pi as “3,” saving people all the trouble of having to deal with a seemingly never-ending number.
The whole thing turned out to be a parody, and perhaps no one would have fallen for it had its original author attribution – “April Holiday” of the “Associmated Press” – not been deleted from the article as it was passed around online.
Have It Your Way
Many kids growing up have fallen victim to funny fathers who asked them to go get them their left-handed hammer. This April Fools’ Day classic has been updated by several well-known companies, but perhaps none went so big as Burger King in 1998 when it took out a full-page ad in USA Today to introduce its new “left-handed Whooper.”
The ad claimed that the left-handed Whoopers were “rotated a full 180 degrees to ensure better grip on the bun” for left-handed customers.
Burger King joined the jokesters once again in 2017 with its new Whopper Toothpaste and the slogan, “It smells like a Whopper in here, did you brush your teeth?”
So, once again you need to be on guard against things that sound too silly to be true on April 1. Silly or absurd stories that pop up on the internet are the order of the day most days, but on April 1 you really need to pay attention and not get caught up in the farce. Good luck and don’t forget to have a laugh at yourself if you get caught up in a good joke.