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Von Kempelen and His Discovery
The April 14, 1849 edition of The Flag of Our Union contained an article titled "Von Kempelen and his Discovery." It described the discovery by a German chemist, Baron Von Kempelen, of an alchemical process to transform lead into gold. The account concluded by noting that news of the discovery had already caused a two hundred per cent leap in the price of lead in Europe.

The story was fictional, although this was not indicated anywhere. Its author was Edgar Allan Poe. He had evidently hoped that the tale might deter some of the "forty-niners" who were heading off to California in search of gold that had recently been discovered there.

Poe wrote to Evert A. Duyckinck, "My sincere opinion is that nine persons out of ten (even among the best informed) will believe the quiz (provided the design does not leak out before publication) and that thus, acting as a sudden, although of course a very temporary, check to the gold-fever, it will create a stir to some purpose."

Despite Poe's confidence in his creation, there is no evidence many people were taken in by this hoax.

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.