Top 10 Hoaxes of All Time


A recent rumor that started on Twitter had people believing actor Jeff Goldblum had fallen off a cliff to his death while shooting a movie. The story was quickly revealed to be a hoax, but it wasn’t the first time the web has been used to spread misinformation, and well before the dawn of the internet there were numerous hoaxes that managed to fool the public, scientists, and the media, often for years on end. Here is a list of the top ten most famous cases in history.

10. The Howard Hughes Autobiography

In the 1920s, renowned industrialist Howard Hughes was one of the richest men in the world, but mental illness led to his becoming a total recluse, and by the 1950s he had entirely retired from public life. In 1970, struggling writer Clifford Irving and a friend hatched a plan to write a fake autobiography of the famed aviator and film producer, figuring that Hughes wouldn’t want to draw attention to himself by condemning it as a fake. Irving forged letters in Hughes’ hand, made up interviews and stories, and eventually managed to get a contract with a well-known publishing company for the “Autobiography of Howard Hughes.” Irving became a minor celebrity when the book was released, appearing on 60 Minutes and other television shows to discuss his supposed relationship with Hughes, but he was finally found out when the real Howard Hughes called a press conference and denied ever knowing him. Irving and his accomplice eventually spent some time in prison for the stunt, which remains one of the biggest literary hoaxes of all time.

9. Idaho’s Name

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If the story behind it is indeed true, then the Idaho hoax remains one of the most successful pranks of all time. The story dates back to the 1860s, when a new territory was being mapped out in the Western United States. Industrialist George Willing suggested “Idaho” as a name for the new state, claiming that it meant “the sun comes from the mountains” in a Native American language. The name gained some popularity in the area, and in 1863 the region was named Idaho Territory, which would later become the state of Idaho. It was only then that Willing, a known eccentric, admitted that Idaho wasn’t a Native American word at all and claimed that he had simply made it up. Although historians still argue about whether or not Willing is really responsible for helping name the state of Idaho, his claim that it was an Indian word was widely reported, and it falsely appeared in history books well into the 20th century.

8. The Hitler Diaries

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The Hitler diaries were a collection of documents penned by master forger Konrad Kujau and passed off as the personal journals of Adolf Hitler. The scammers claimed that after being recovered from the wreckage of a plane that crashed in Germany in 1945, the diaries were  smuggled out of East Germany by a man known as “Dr. Fischer.”  They were eventually bought for 10 million German marks by the magazine Stern, which published extracts from them in one of its issues in 1983. But the extreme amount of secrecy required to keep the story exclusive meant that historians and handwriting experts weren’t able to properly examine the diaries to confirm their authenticity, and it was only after the article was published that they were revealed to be fakes. The ensuing scandal resulted in several of the magazine’s editors resigning, and Kujau and the journalist he was working with both spent time in prison.

7. Paul Is Dead

The superstardom earned by The Beatles in late 1960s helped produce the “Paul is Dead” hoax, which still remains one of the biggest legends in music. It started when some fans began to claim that hidden messages stating that Paul McCartney was dead could be heard when certain Beatles songs were played backwards. The rumor gained steam with the help of radio disc jockeys and conspiracy theorists, and a legend arose that McCartney had died in a car accident during the recording of one of the band’s albums, with some even claiming that Paul had been replaced by a look-alike. McCartney was eventually forced to address the rumor in order to confirm that he was not, in fact, dead, but just who started the hoax remains a mystery. Many have put forth Beatles themselves as possible suspects, pointing to the frequent cryptic messages and wordplay found on their albums, but the band repeatedly denied this claim.

6. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

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The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is one of the biggest literary forgeries of all time, and since it appeared over 100 years ago, its effects have been unbelievably far-reaching. The book, which was deliberately forged by Russian journalist Matvei Golovinski sometime around 1900, purports to describe the secrets of a clandestine group of Jews known as the Elders of Zion. Mixing outright fabrication with plagiarism from other sources, it details a Jewish conspiracy to achieve world domination through brainwashing, governmental power and violence. Even though it was proven as a forgery both in the media and the court of law as early as 1938, it has been used time and again as a justification for anti-Semitism, most notably by the Nazis, and has helped inspire untold amounts of violence. At this point, the book has lost almost all credibility in academic circles, but it continues to have an influence, most famously in Middle Eastern nations like Egypt and Iran. Want to know more, here is a video.

5. The Turk

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Built by Wolfgang Von Kempelen in 1770, the Turk was a fake “automaton chess player” that gained fame in the courts of Europe and was exhibited around the world for more than 80 years. Conceived by Kempelen in order to impress the Empress Maria Theresa, the Turk was purported to be a chess playing machine that worked by a series of mechanical cogs and cranks, but in reality it was an illusion that allowed a human chess master to hide inside a compartment and operate the pieces using magnets. The Turk gained much fame during its exhibitions in Paris, London, and the United States, during which it won most of its matches against some of the most respected chess players in the world. It famously defeated both Napoleon Bonaparte and Ben Franklin, and when it was shown in America it inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write a magazine article speculating on how it might work. The Turk inspired much debate and fascination, with some claiming it was operated by a spirit or some kind of magic, and it continued to be exhibited even after Kempelen and one of its most famous operators, William Schlumberger, had both died. After being given to a museum, the Turk was destroyed in a fire, and shortly thereafter its secrets were revealed in a series of magazine articles.

4. The Niger Uranium Forgeries


Perhaps no hoax has had more far reaching effects than the Niger Uranium forgeries, which played a big part in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. The hoax started when a series of documents were recovered by Italian military intelligence. The papers supposedly provided evidence that Sadaam Hussein had made efforts to purchase quantities of Yellowcake Uranium from the country of Niger. These documents ultimately became the biggest evidence that Iraq was looking to build weapons of mass destruction, and were one of the major reasons for the initial invasion of Iraq by American and British forces. It was only after the documents’ existence had been made public that the CIA made further inquiries into their authenticity and discovered that they were fakes. In the time since, the forgeries have been a constant source of speculation and debate, but no one has ever been charged with creating them, though members of the Italian and American intelligence communities have been put forth as suspects.

3. Piltdown Man

Perhaps the most famous scientific hoax in history, the Piltdown Man was a skeleton of a primitive humanoid that was discovered in 1912 in Piltdown, England. The shape of the creature’s skull was different from any previously discovered early humans, and the two men who popularized the find, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward, were quick to advance the theory that Piltdown Man was the famed “missing link” between apes and humans. Skepticism eventually arose in the scientific community, and several paleontologists and anthropologists called the find a fake. Despite the controversy, Piltdown Man was generally accepted as a major piece of history for forty years until 1953, when a team of scientists finally proved it to be a forgery assembled from human, orangutan, and chimpanzee bones and teeth aged with chromic acid. A number of possible suspects have been put forth over the years, but recent evidence points to Dawson, Piltdown Man’s original finder, as the mastermind behind the hoax.

2. The Cardiff Giant

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In 1869, a tobacconist named George Hull orchestrated what has become one of the most famous hoaxes in American history: the Cardiff Giant. After hiring a stonecutter to create the likeness of a ten-foot tall giant out of gypsum, Hull had it buried on his cousin’s farm in Cardiff, New York. A year later, he hired some men to dig a well on the spot, knowing that they would uncover the petrified man. Sure enough, the men uncovered the giant, and the find soon became a media sensation. Hull built a tent on the dig site and started selling tickets to it for 50 cents, and even though most scientists immediately condemned the find as a fake, people flocked to the farm to get a glimpse of the petrified giant. The find became such a success that P.T. Barnum attempted to rent the giant for his circus, and when he was turned down, he built a replica and started exhibiting it as the real thing. The owners of the Cardiff Giant sued Barnum, but in the course of the trial it eventually came out that both of the finds were hoaxes, and in 1870 Hull finally confessed to engineering a forgery.

1. The War of The Worlds Radio Show


In what is remembered as the most famous hoax in entertainment history, a 1938 radio play version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is said to have caused mass hysteria and panic among its listeners. The show aired on Halloween and was directed and narrated by Orson Welles, who would later make the classic film Citizen Kane. It was presented in the form of a special news bulletin and interrupted a weather report, leading many to believe that the story’s description of a Martian invasion of Earth was actually happening. It is estimated that some six million people heard the broadcast, and it is said that police stations were overrun with distress calls. In one small town in Washington, the broadcast coincided with a freak citywide power failure, leading many of the town’s residents to arm themselves with guns and flee into the mountains. The media backlash from the broadcast was huge, and CBS radio, which aired the program, went on to promise never to try a similar stunt again. The whole incident did succeed in jump-starting Orson Welles’ career, and it has been said that when Pearl Harbor was attacked three years later, many people initially thought the news reports to be yet another radio prank like the War of the Worlds hoax.

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  1. How about the hoax that Obama is doing a good job as president and that the unemployment rate is really improving. It may not be in the top ten hoaxes of all time but it is a major hoax taking place right now. It should be over by late January 2013 though…I HOPE!…

  2. The Paul McCartney thing is not a hoax. It’s true,the name of the man we know as Paul McCartney today is William Campbell.

  3. too bad No.4 resulted in the death of thousands of iraqis. the culprits that created this hoax are terrorists and should be brought to justice.

    Is No. 6 really a hoax ????. I mean look around you who control the money, media and even wars

  4. RE: Global Warming. Maybe those who think it’s a hoax, should take a hike way up North, and ask the Polar Bears what’s happening to their habitat!!!

    • Go hug one Thommy.

      Let’s say it again:
      *There are more Polar Bears now than there were 50 years ago.
      *They survived the last interglacial, which was warmer than now.
      *The claim that Polar Bears are drowning because of Global Warming (human caused) was based on shoddy, cargo cult, science.

  5. What about Sarah Palin and her "Wild ride" from Texas to Alaska while leaking amniotic fluid, driving to an out-of-the-way clinic and birthing a premature Down Syndrome baby with a hole in his heart and then appearing with him at work 2 days later? She will not produce a birth certificate. She lied to the Nation about her qualifications She sacrificed her teen-age daughter for her "christian family values anti- abortion" campaign.

  6. One that should most definitely be included as a genuine deliberate hoax was the fossil that National Geographic got all excited about, linking some feathered fossil to a previously unfeathered fossil (cannot remember the exact details) only to discover after a big splash on TV and in the magazine, that it was a hoax from China, being made up of two unrelated fossils.

  7. You could say yes, Global Warming is a type of hoax. I am not going to get into the science of it, because that is a debate all its own. I do think however, that the issue has been over-hyped into a doomsday scenario instead of a more change in life. Trust me here, the world will not end if the sea rises an extra 100 ft. and btw, the energy required to get the oceans to go up 100 ft is immense, thousands of hydrogen bombs worth to change that much ice into that much water, and that isnt taking into account the shoreline, but like i said I am not getting into the science (or really math) of it

    its just the over-hype that gets me, and I dont lie the govt getting involved because then it becomes a political issue and that is where the doomsday scenario comes from, politicians trying to get more votes.

    so yeah don't hate me, we all have opinions, most of us are wrong and if you can't admit that, odds are you are one of the wrong ones

  8. What about James Frey? You don't mess w/ Mother Oprah! I think he's now in a million little pieces scattered all over Chicago.

  9. The war of the worlds radio broadcast was not a hoax, the show itself contained three statements (at the beginning, middle and end) of its fictional nature. The reason for the panic – much of which has been over hyped as time progresses – was because many listeners switched over to the broadcast from another popular radio show that slightly overlapped and missed the initial clarification.

  10. the internet is a hoax and it isn't on here. I am tired of people saying that this internet thing is real.

  11. Fact:

    The longer comment threads get, the more likely it is that someone will come up with an offensive statement bashing religion, America, or Holocaust believers.

    I'm actually surprised that no one has said anything about the Holocaust being a hoax.

    Be proud, human race. This is what we have come to;

    a pile of internet juknies all hoping to prove each other wrong with a wittier-than-the-previous comment.

  12. Excellent list. My favorite hoax is "The Surgeons Photograph". Taken at Loch Ness in 1934 it's the most iconic image of the Loch Ness monster and wasn't confirmed as a hoax until 1994! It could be argued that this is the photo that started it all as far as the tourism business that Nessie garners today.

  13. This was an interesting article, and I appreciate the work that must have gone into it. The only downside is the people who have to argue about topics that weren't mentioned such as the Bible or Global Warming. In my personal opinion if people want to call something a hoax, they should do their own research and have enough decency to not ruin the article for others who have done their own research, by perhaps keeping their arguing traps shut. I apologize if this seems rude, but I felt that I had to make a point with it. People should keep their comments about the article and not argue about what isn't even mentioned in the article. It's simply common courtesy for other readers, and keeps the amount of people who get offended to a minimum. As it is, I enjoyed the article. Just not the stupid people arguing over something that's not even mentioned in the article.

  14. You should include the Prebster John letters aswell, from the middle ages it was of great influence to the crusades the starting of the discovery age and diplomatic relations between europe and african kingdoms

  15. Just an example of how sharp you naysayers are about global warming – look at 'mini cigarette.' Not only are WMDs in the list, another person doesn't read it either and makes the same mistake, so it's corrected and repeated in the comments. MC is the perfect example of somebody who does about 2 seconds looking for an answer then repeats the first BS they find or their uninformed friend tells them ad nauseam and doesn't know WTF he's talking about. Do you think over 98% of 3,000 scientists agreeing that we are having an impact on the planet is the work of idiots? They may not be sharp tacks like MC, but they likely at least did some of their own investigation to see if it made reasonable sense. The real 10th hoax is that you all use 10% of your brains.

    • Actually, it appears you only used 10% of your brain. I've written several research papers on the subject and Global Warming is not near as certain as people would like you to believe. That 98% is mostly from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Control(IPCC) which is pretty much the only scientists people are listening to. They do not actually do their own research. Everything they report comes from computer data. There are scientists who have traveled the world making tests and researching this who have evidence completely contradicting the IPCC, but they can't get the funding to follow up their research because the IPCC is largely in control. Furthermore, there are expert reviewers for the IPCC who have said their research methods are flawed. Global Warming makes for an intersting story (World's End Approaching!), but that's all it is. People need to stop trusting everything they read in the papers and start doing some of their own research. You shouldn't start agruing your point like you know what your talking about unless you have actually done some research on the matter. You're only throwing out there exactly what the news says. I encourage you to do some searching on the internet and read other scientists views on Global Warming.

      • Nice try Kat… too bad you are a tool! While I'll concede that there is not 100% surety, have you looked at who is funding most of this "independent" research? And I guess it doesn't make any sense to you why they brought all those scientists together–with their silly climatological experience and all–to look objectively at what data we DO HAVE on the topic. I think you are one of the ones who is scared by the idea that we could be affecting our planet, and are looking for any excuse you can find to make yourself feel better. When something this important is at stake, why would we not begin making changes especially when they are not as dire as any run-of-the-mill republican will point out to you? It won't topple the economy… sorry. Look at the history of how we have made change when necessary that was considerable to our economy and how we shifted to roll with the change. Reducing greenhouse gases would be the most important thing on your plate if you really cared enough to look past the rhetoric and take a careful look at how our actions affect this planet, understanding that nothing is for certain and we have to act REGULARLY on less-than-perfect data. What's at stake? Why don't you answer that question KAT and see where it gets you.

      • Well, it looks as though I made the wrong assumption about you being someone who was spoon fed by the news. I apologize. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions without knowing you. I must say that you are right that I am scared, but it's not for the reason you are thinking. I've been watching people blindly follow and the thought of a nation that no longer thinks independently is what scares me. I feel as though we are becoming a country of robots dumbly programmed to believe everything we see on TV. My research obviously disagrees with yours. My point is that the scientists on the IPCC are not looking at new data. They look at the old stuff, but the scientists out gathering data, real-time, are not taken into account. You definitely have me on the question of "What's at stake?", but I feel that is only a valid question if we don't have any real evidence of what's happening to our planet. There is evidence being gathered every day though that is not accepted.

        I do trust that our actions influence the planet, just not near as drastically as we are led to believe. I'm all for gradual measures to become environmentally friendly. However, I don't believe decades of habit should be changed over the course of a couple years.

    • It's people like you both that are causing global warming.

      All your chatter about positively nothing is wasting and polluting the clean air.

    • [quote]Nice try Kat… too bad you are a tool![/quote]

      The above seems to be a typical ad hominem attack by a proponent of anthropological global warming.

      When facts and statistical analysis fail to support their hypothesis, they refuse to admit that the null hypothesis is correct and say the debate is over. Anyone who questions the authority of "98% of 3,000 scientists" (the vast majority of whom were not climatologists and have no expertise in the field, and leaving out the fact that the climatologists actually in charge of the study disputed its conclusions) is cast as "a tool".

  16. mini cigarette on

    Global warming should definitely be on the list – along with weapons of mass destruction.

  17. What about "Global Warming" / "Climate Change"? That is DEFINITELY one of the biggest hoaxes ever played on mankind.

    • no…'s not a kind of hoax…

      its a true phenomenon..

      ..if you wont believe..then you should think twice!

  18. "War of the World's" should not be on this list. It was not a hoax, and repeated announcements were made during the broadcast that it was fiction.

    • Oh come on! have a little simpathy…At least they haven't prooved it's untrue unlike with the bible.

        • Question everything. If the bible is true, explain this: God is infallible. God knows everything. God created man. God was displeased by man and so created the flood (Noah, etc) to kill those who displeased him. Now:

          1. If god knows everything then he knew man would displease him, so he set man up to fail (malevolance), or
          2. God did not know man would displease him, so god is not all knowing or infallible.
          3. If god can create the heaven and the earth from nothing, why would he choose the most cumbersome and slow method of killing everyone he didn't like (drowning them over 130 years!) rather than just clicking his fingers and blinking them out of existence?

        • Plz study the Bible and any religious text before u say ignorant stuff like that:

          1-God DOES know everything, some things He chooses not to know just to see how we do and if we obey, God created inteligent beings with free will not robots. Just like a movie God decided not to know the end and see if man would obey, otherwise God would be cruel and evil.

          2- Same as above

          3-The flood lasted 40 days and nights not 130 years, God isnt a magician, doesnt do magic tricks, instead he manipulates the world He created. “God is a scientist”- Albert Einstein

  19. I dont think the turk was a hoax at all,ur seems like a typical european senerio to take down any non-european succesor. Besides if you arr that good at chess then you would be quite smart and would not play for someone else to succeed. Its not their first time.

  20. The war of the worlds hoax wasn't a hoax. It was preceded by an announcement that this was a modern interpretation of the classic tale done in the form of a news cast and set in the local area rather than in England like the original story. What happened was a more popular radio show was canceled or was a rerun (what exactly I don't remember) and all those listeners, looking for something else, tuned into the war of the worlds, late, after the introduction.

    So there! Not a hoax just a Rube Goldbergian set of coincidences.

    • Chase–

      They did air those announcements, but there's no denying, as you said, that some people tuned in a little late and took it the wrong way. It definitely wasn't an intentional hoax, but it sure played out like one, so that's why I included it. It might be a little bit of a stretch, but it's just too interesting a story to ignore.

      • johnny b goode on

        "It definitely wasn't an international hoax…"
        If it isn't a hoax, don't say it is. Or are you just used to blatantly lying to your readers? I understand why you would want to put it on this list, but don't say it's a hoax if it ain't. btw stumbleupon+1

      • johnny b goode:

        Evan stated, "It wasn't an intentional hoax…" not "It wasn't an international hoax…".

        I don't think he was blatantly lying to his readers. I also don't think you were blatantly misquoting Evan.

      • I think in this case, you have to mention that it was unintentional, in the list and not the comments. The broadcast was just an exceptionally well written and performed radio show. In my opinion its a bit of a disservice to not let your readers know this right off.

        A bit of an aside, the show that caused people to come in late was the Chase and Sanborn Hour, that featured, of all things, a ventriloquist that night; I have listened to this broadcast, not much to speak of. At the 10 minute break for Edgar and Charlie (the ventriloquist and his dummy), people switched over to the CBS broadcast, just in time to hear the bulletin on the "Mars explosions." I'm guessing that most people would be interested in this, thus not returning to Edgar and Charlie.

        Ironically, most of the people who tuned in late must have not stayed for the end; it was a two part broadcast, I'm not sure if it was two night or not, but I do know that there was some sort of break in the story. The first part was the fake radio broadcast of the landings and the second part was a sort of diary dictation of a survivor as he looked for other survivors…its funny how less than a half hour of a radio broadcast can cause so much confusion, hysteria, and fear…

        To those few who have read this comment to the end, kudos, kudos to you.

      • A hoax is a deliberate attempt to mislead people. The War of the Worlds radio play was not produced to intentionally mislead people so it is not a hoax by any stretch. Putting it on this list as a hoax is more a hoax than the play itself.

      • The word "hoax" implies intent, therefore there is no such thing as an unintentional hoax. The War of the Worlds fiasco, while amusing, is certainly not a hoax.

    • Sterling-

      They're on the list under #4. The Nigerian uranium forgeries were a big part of what started the whole WMD's in Iraq debate.

    • Word, would you dare to substitute "Bible" for "Koran"? And Dave, would you stand by your comment in that case?

      • Gladly. No religious text, to my knowledge, bears any more authenticity than any other.

        Jcg: I would hope the reason you asked that question was to illustrate the fallibility of ALL religions, and not merely the knee-jerk Christian defense of "You wouldn't say that about Islam!", which people seem to think somehow justifies the silliness of their own religion.