April 1, 1957: The respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” Even the director-general of the BBC later admitted that after seeing the show he checked in an encyclopedia to find out if that was how spaghetti actually grew (but the encyclopedia had no information on the topic). The broadcast remains, by far, the most popular and widely acclaimed April Fool’s Day hoax ever, making it an easy pick for number one.
April 1, 1962: Sweden’s SVT (Sveriges Television) brought their technical expert, Kjell Stensson, onto the news to inform the public that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. At the time, there was only the one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white, so this was big news. Stensson explained that all viewers had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen, and the mesh would cause the light to bend in such a way that it would appear as if the image was in color. He proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Many Swedes today still report remembering their fathers rushing through the house trying to find stockings to place over the TV set. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.
April 1, 1974: The residents of Sitka, Alaska woke to a disturbing sight. Clouds of black smoke were rising from the crater of Mount Edgecumbe, the long-dormant volcano neighboring them. People spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano, terrified that it was active again and might soon erupt. Luckily it turned out that man, not nature, was responsible for the smoke. A local practical joker named Porky Bickar had flown hundreds of old tires into the volcano’s crater and then lit them on fire, all in a (successful) attempt to fool the city dwellers into believing that the volcano was stirring to life. According to local legend, when Mount St. Helens erupted six years later, a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, “This time you’ve gone too far!”
April 1, 1978: A barge towing a giant iceberg appeared in Sydney Harbor. Sydneysiders were expecting it. Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman, had been loudly promoting his scheme to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for quite some time. Now he had apparently succeeded. He said that he was going to carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. These well-traveled cubes, fresh from the pure waters of Antarctica, were promised to improve the flavor of any drink they cooled. Slowly the iceberg made its way into the harbor. Local radio stations provided blow-by-blow coverage of the scene. Only when the berg was well into the harbor was its secret revealed. It started to rain, and the firefighting foam and shaving cream that the berg was really made of washed away, uncovering the white plastic sheets beneath.
April 1, 1977: The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian‘s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer’s terminology. The success of this hoax is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April Foolery that gripped the British tabloids in subsequent decades.
April 1, 1976: During an early-morning interview on BBC Radio 2, the British astronomer Patrick Moore announced that at 9:47 AM that day a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur. Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, and this planetary alignment would temporarily counteract and lessen the Earth’s own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment the alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9:47 AM arrived, the station began receiving hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman reported that she and her friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room. Moore had intended his annoucement to be a spoof of a pseudoscientific theory that had recently been promoted in a book called The Jupiter Effect, alleging that a rare alignment of the planets was going to cause massive earthquakes and the destruction of Los Angeles in 1982.
April 1, 1996: The Taco Bell Corporation took out a full-page ad that appeared in six major newspapers announcing it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
March 31, 1989: Thousands of motorists driving on the highway outside London looked up in the air to see a glowing flying saucer descending on their city. Many of them pulled to the side of the road to watch the bizarre craft float through the air. The saucer finally landed in a field on the outskirts of London where local residents immediately called the police to warn them of an alien invasion. Soon the police arrived on the scene, and one brave officer approached the craft with his truncheon extended before him. When a door in the craft popped open, and a small, silver-suited figure emerged, the policeman ran in the opposite direction. The saucer turned out to be a hot-air balloon that had been specially built to look like a UFO by Richard Branson, the 36-year-old chairman of Virgin Records. The stunt combined his passion for ballooning with his love of pranks. His plan was to land the craft in London’s Hyde Park on April 1. Unfortunately, the wind blew him off course, and he was forced to land a day early in the wrong location.
The April 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated revealed that the New York Mets had recruited a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a baseball at 168 mph — 65 mph faster than the previous record. Surprisingly, Sidd Finch had never played baseball before, but he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery. Mets fans couldn’t believe their good luck and, accepting at face value the peculiarities of Sidd Finch’s past, flooded Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. But in reality this amazing player only existed in the imagination of author George Plimpton, who had left a clue in the sub-heading of the article: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi, and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each of these words, taken together, spelled “H-a-p-p-y A-p-r-i-l F-o-o-l-s D-a-y — A-h F-i-b”.
April 1, 1992: National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation revealed that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon’s voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.