Hoaxes Throughout History
Middle AgesEarly Modern1700s1800-1840s1850-1890s
1900s1910s1920s1930s1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s21st Century2014

Hoaxes of the 1910s

On February 7, 1910 the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage were received with full ceremonial pomp on the deck of the H.M.S. Dreadnought, the British Navy's most powerful battleship. But the next day the Navy was mortified to learn that the visitors hadn't been Abyssinian dignitaries at all. They had been a group of young, upper class pranksters who had blackened their faces, donned elaborate theatrical costumes, and then forged an official telegram in order to gain access to the ship. More…
When amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson unearthed a skull and jawbone from a gravel pit near Piltdown, England, the fossil was hailed as the long-sought missing link between man and ape. For almost forty years the authenticity of the Piltdown fossil remained unquestioned, until 1953, when researchers at the British Museum took a closer look and realized the fossil was a fake. The skull belonged to a prehistoric human, whereas the jawbone came from a modern orangutan. More…
Frederick Rodman Law was a well-known daredevil active in the early 20th century. His stunts included parachuting from the top of the Statue of Liberty and jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. In May 1912, a pedestrian in Washington DC exclaimed that Law appeared to be scaling the monument without permission — and was already a third of the way up. A huge crowd gathered to watch the feat. But when the police arrived to apprehend Law when he came down, they realized that what had resembled a human figure was actually a damp spot on the side of the monument caused by the previous night's rain. More…
Paul Chabas's painting "September Morn" won a gold medal of honor in 1912 at the Paris Salon. But when copies of the painting made their way to America, it provoked a bitter controversy about nudity, art, and public morality. Thanks to this controversy, September Morn became one of the most famous paintings of the twentieth century, selling millions of copies. Publicist Harry Reichenbach later claimed to have started the controversy by complaining to moral censors about the indecency of the painting. He didn't actually feel the painting was indecent. He was cynically manipulating the self-righteous moralists in order to sell copies of the painting. More…
In 1916 a slender volume of poetry introduced the Spectric school of poetry to the world. The Spectric philosophy, as explained by its founders, was to embrace the immediacy of experience, even if that experience could not be expressed rationally. Soon Spectrism had attracted a growing band of followers. But despite repeated requests for meetings and interviews, the two founders of Spectrism never appeared in public. This led to rumors of a hoax, rumors that were confirmed in 1918 when the poet Witter Bynner admitted that he and his friend Arthur Davison Ficke were the true creative forces behind Spectric poetry. Their goal had been to parody the overly pompous experimentalism that was the fad of the moment. More…
Journalist H.L. Mencken published an article in the New York Evening Mail describing the history of the bathtub in America, noting that people were slow to accept tubs, believing they were dangerous to health. This attitude, Mencken said, changed when President Millard Fillmore became the first president to install a tub in the White House. Mencken's history of the bathtub wasn't true. He intended it as a joke, but few people recognized it as such. Details from Mencken's article began to appear in other papers. One scholar included the tale in a history of hygiene. To this day, many people still believe that Mencken's fake history of the bathtub is true. More…