Famous April Fools' Day pranks
Mark your calendar for this week’s out-of-the ordinary holidays.
Today is April Fools' Day, a holiday that historians believe dates back to 1582, when France switched to the Gregorian calendar. The calendar switched the start of the new year to Jan. 1. Those who didn’t realize the switch had been made and continued to celebrate the new year during the last week of March into April became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.
The tradition continued into modern times with well-known institutions and companies getting in on the holiday with some of the best hoaxes of all time. Here are five of the best in chronological order.
1933: Collapse of the Wisconsin Capitol
Long before the days of Photoshop, The Madison (Wis.) Capital Times newspaper published a photo of the state Capitol building falling to the ground along with a caption, “Officials say legislature generated too much hot air.” The newspaper also printed a tiny heading stating it was an April Fools' joke, but thousands were fooled.
1957: Spaghetti grows on trees
This was perhaps the greatest — if not the most well-known — April Fools' joke in history. The BBC had thousands fooled when it ran a report on one of its current affairs program about a bumper crop of spaghetti being produced that year. The film showed women plucking strands of cooked spaghetti off of branches. Voiced by respected British news anchor Richard Dimbleby, it was so convincing the BBC received calls from viewers weeks later asking how they could grow their own spaghetti tree.
1978: An Australian Iceberg
In the late 1970s, Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith was talking about bringing a real iceberg to usually sunny Sydney as a way to provide drought relief. By 1978 he hadn’t accomplished it yet, but decided to have a little fun in the meantime. With help from friends, he pumped firefighting foam and shaving cream into the harbor. The result was a massive “iceberg.” People lined the shore to look. It had everyone fooled — until it started to rain and the “iceberg” dissipated.
1996: The Taco Bell Liberty Bell
In an era when corporate sponsorship had taken over sports, Taco Bell took it to another level announcing to the public that it had purchased the Liberty Bell. The public was outraged. Many questioned American values in selling out a national treasure. It got so heated that the National Park Service had to assure the public it was just a joke. It all worked in Taco Bell’s favor in added sales and exposure. Taco Bell executives claimed sales were up $600,000 the day after this prank.
1998: The left-handed Whopper
Perhaps after seeing what Taco Bell did two years earlier, Burger King decided to formulate its own hoax. In 1998, the company published a full-page ad in USA Today introducing the new “left-handed Whopper.” The ad copy stated, “Finally, after years of neglect, left-handed eaters will no longer need to conform to traditional right-handed eating methods.” Apparently, the burger-eating public ate up the prank, walking into Burger King restaurants for the next few days placing orders for either left- or right-handed burgers.
Other holidays this week:
- Monday, April 1: Sourdough Bread Day
- Tuesday, April 2: Ferret Day
- Wednesday, April 3: Find a Rainbow Day
- Thursday, April 4: Hug a Newsperson Day
- Friday, April 5: Read a Road Map Day
- Saturday, April 6: Love Our Children Day
- Sunday, April 7: No Housework Day