Famous Hoaxes Throughout History

Before 1700 | 1700-1799 | 1800-1868| 1869-1913| 1914-1949| 1950-1976| 1977-1989| 1990-1999| After 2000


The beginning of the twentieth century was framed by the catastrophic conflicts of the two World Wars. The period in between the wars was a time of turbulence as well. Labor unrest, high crime rates, financial instability (the Great Depression), and political upheaval characterized these decades. But for some the deeper threat lay elsewhere, in the coming of age of mass society and the mass media. Critics wondered whether Democracy, Freedom, and Truth could survive the growing mass media onslaught of advertising, propaganda, and sensationalism. Many of the most famous hoaxes of this period (such as the 1938 War of the Worlds hoax) related to this effort to come to terms with the implications of mass culture.

A Tale of a Tub
Mencken's apocryphal history of the bathtub in America
The Cottingley Fairies
Photos of delicate, fairy creatures cause a sensation in England
The Disumbrationist School of Art
Latin scholar invents disheveled Russian alter ego and becomes the darling of the art world
The Ponzi Scheme
A poor Italian immigrant discovers money
The Case of the Midwife Toad
Amphibian inkspots provoke evolutionary controversy
Hugh Troy
Tales about the mischievous work of this legendary practical joker
Hugo N. Frye
The satirical career of a sturdy patriot who first planted the ideals of the Republican Party in New York State
Death in the Air
Spectacular (fake) aerial photos of World War I dogfights
Theft of the Sacred Cod
The cod-napping of the sacred fish of the State of Massachusetts
Loch Ness Monster Hoaxes
Suppositious reports of a giant sea serpent at large in Scotland's Loch Ness
The Surgeon's Photo
A controversial picture offers proof of the existence of Nessie
Fritz Kreisler
Famous violinist 'discovers' lost classics by composers such as Pugnani and Vivaldi
The Brown Lady of Raynham
Did photographers capture an actual image of a ghost?
Veterans of Future Wars
Turning the guns of ridicule on the subject of military service
The Perambulating Skull
Steer's skull appears in different places throughout South Dakota
"The War of the Worlds"
The Martians are coming!
Hitler Hoaxes
These are not hoaxes by Hitler. They're hoaxes about Hitler.