But sometimes April 1 inspires attempts at humor that do not turn out so well. Some attempts are, in fact, awful. The Museum of Hoaxes has a list of the top 100 April Foolâ€™s Day jokes listed on www.museumofhoaxes.com. Arthur Baguma brings you some of the most famous jokes in the history of Fools Day.
April Foolâ€™s Day, 1940
World To End Tomorrow
On March 31, 1940 the Franklin Institute issued a press release stating that the world would end the next day. The release was picked up by radio station KYW which broadcast the following message: â€œYour worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3pm Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city.â€ The public reaction was immediate. Local authorities were flooded with frantic phone calls.
The prankster responsible for the press release was William Castellini, the Franklin Instituteâ€™s press agent who had intended to use the fake press release to publicise an April 1 lecture at the institute titled: â€œHow Will the World End?â€ Soon afterwards, the Institute dismissed Castellini.
April Fool's Day, 1878
Edison Invents Machine To Feed the Human Race
After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, Americans were quite willing to believe there was no limit to his genius.
They were sure he could solve any problem he focused his powerful mind on. Therefore, when The New York Graphic announced in 1878 that Edison had invented a machine capable of transforming soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine, it found a willing audience of believers.
Newspapers throughout America copied the article unquestioningly and heaped lavish praise on Edison.
Hijinks of Sadam Hussein and Son
Saddam Hussein and his sons may have been ruthless, power-hungry dictators, but that did not stop them from trying to give the people of Iraq a good chuckle every April Foolâ€™s Day. On April 1, 1998 the Babil newspaper, owned by Husseinâ€™s son Uday, informed its readers that President Clinton had decided to lift sanctions against Iraq, only to admit later that it was just joking.
The laughs continued in 1999 when Uday mischievously announced that the monthly food rations would be supplemented to include bananas, Pepsi, and chocolate. Again, just a joke.
A Fake Hanging
Randy Woodâ€™s marriage was over, but he was still bitter about the divorce. So he decided to play a prank on his ex-wife. He called her up and asked her to come over, telling her that he had something to show her. She drove over, only to find him hanging by a noose from a tree in his front yard.
Terrifed, she dialed 911.
Emergency services, including firefighters, policemen, and paramedics soon showed up. But when they cut Wood down, they discovered he was not dead. He had strung himself up as a prank to scare his ex-wife and the authorities warned that he would face a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail for his prank.
A Fake Robbery
Sitra Walker was an employee at a clothing store in Columbus, Ohio. She had only been working there for two weeks, but she felt that she knew the manager well enough to joke around with him. So on April 1, 2003 she called him up at his home and told him that armed men were robbing the store.
The manager immediately called the police, who promptly dispatched four cruisers. Minutes later Walker phoned the manager again and screamed â€œApril Foolsâ€. Too late. When the police arrived moments later they were not amused and charged her with inducing a panic. Walkerâ€™s manager fired her.
The Phony Deadline
Glenn Howlettâ€™s colleagues at London city hall thought they had dreamed up a great gag. They sent him a memo informing him that the really big report he was working on was going to be due early, in just two weeks. The tip-off was that the memo was dated April 1. Except Howlett did not realise it was a joke.
He received the memo while on vacation, immediately cut it short and phoned the office to tell everyone to start getting busy. But as he contemplated the new deadline, he worked himself up into an increasing state of panic, until he began to experience heart palpitations. Finally he collapsed from the stress and had to take leave. As he was recovering, he realised it was not worth risking his health to finish the report, so he filed for early retirement. At that point, someone told him the early deadline was a joke. He responded by suing for damages. As a consequence of his lawsuit, city hall banned employees from pulling any more pranks.
The Iraqi Ambassadorâ€™s Final Joke
On April 1, 2003, as thousands of American-led coalition troops stormed across Iraq, the Iraqi ambassador to Russia, Abbas Khalaf Kunfuth, held a press conference in Moscow. Many were expecting him to announce that Iraq conceded defeat. Instead Kunfuth chose this moment to hold a gag press conference. Holding up a piece of paper that he identified as a news flash from Reuters, he read aloud from it: â€œThe Americans have accidentally fired a nuclear missile into British forces, killing seven.â€ The room full of reporters went silent with shock. Then Kunfuth grinned and shouted â€œApril Fools!â€ Only a few days after this unexpected moment of levity, the Iraqi government completely collapsed.
Releasing The Prisoners
Imagine reading that your husband or brother who has been held in a squalid Romanian prison for years is finally going to be released. You make the long journey to the prison and stand outside the prison gates, waiting desperately for the moment youâ€™ll be reunited with your loved one, only to hear... â€œApril Fools! No one is being released!â€ This happened to sixty people in April 2000 who read in the Opinia newspaper that their loved ones were going to be released from the Baia Mare prison in Romania.
They made the long journey to the prison, only to learn that the paper had played an April Fool's joke on them. The Opinia later published an apology.
Famous Foolsâ€™ Day pranks