Wednesday, April 30, 2008

approx. 1000 BCE: first fork

The word fork is derived from the Latin furca, meaning "pitchfork". It is a myth that the table fork was introduced to the West during the Middle Ages, as the ancient Greeks used the fork as a serving utensil. It's also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of I Samuel 2:13 ("The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was boiling, with a fork of three teeth in his hand...").

The oldest surviving fork that can be identified with a particular person was discovered along with the "Dead Sea Scrolls" near the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in Israel 1947. Scientists have dated it to approximately 1000 BCE, the time of King David. A pottery jar that contained the fork, a knife and a bracelet identified their owner as "Eno, son of Amram."

Before the fork was introduced, Westerners were reliant on the spoon and knife as the only eating utensils. People would mostly eat with their hands, using a spoon when needed. Members of the aristocracy would sometimes be accustomed to manners considered more proper and hold two knives at meals and use them both to cut and transfer food to the mouth, using the spoon for soups.

The earliest forks usually had only two tines, but those with numerous tines caught on quickly. The tines on these implements were straight, meaning the fork could only be used for spearing food and not for scooping it. The fork allowed meat to be easily held in place while being cut. The fork also allowed one to spike a piece of meat and shake off any undesired excess of sauce or liquid.

First introduced to Western Europe in the 10th century by Theophanu, Byzantine wife of Emperor Otto II, the table fork had, by the 11th century, made its way to Italy. In Italy, it became quite popular by the 14th century, being commonly used for eating by merchant and upper classes by 1600. It was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork and spoon enclosed in a box called a cadena. This usage was introduced to the French court with Catherine de' Medici's entourage.

Long after the personal table fork had become commonplace in France, at the supper celebrating the marriage of the duc de Chartres to Louis XIV's natural daughter in 1692, the seating was described in the court memoirs of Saint-Simon: "King James having his Queen on his right hand and the King on his left, and each with their cadenas." In Perrault's contemporaneous fairy tale of La Belle au bois dormant (1697), each of the fairies invited for the christening is presented with a splendid "Fork Holder"

The fork's arrival in northern Europe was more difficult. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation.

Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church disapproved of its use, seeing it as "excessive delicacy": "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks — his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating." It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain. It was around this time that the curved fork used today was developed in Germany. The standard four-tine design became current in the early nineteenth century. (some info from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

1858: design approved for first landscaped urban park in US

150 years ago yesterday, the City of New York approved a design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who won a design competition for what became Central Park.

Prior to park improvements, the site of Central Park was a wasteland -- swamp, heavy brush, debris from (transient) human occupation -- and parts were heavily populated by goats. Existing reservoirs separated the available land for the park, hindering the ability to have singular composition.

Nearly 5 million cubic yards of soil and stone were moved and over 100 miles of drainage pipe were put in place. Significant roads, planting, artificial ponds, and removal of brush occurred in an effort to achieve the desired landscape.

The park opened in 1862, but even before it was finished it was very successful. 25,000 visitors a day came to the park, in carriages, on foot, to play games, to ice skate. The success of Central Park led to many other parks across the country.

Emphasis in the plan was placed on the scene, long vistas, and the perception of vast space.

Grade crossing elimination was very important to the overall unification of the park. The four crossroads for traffic crossing the width of the park were sunk below the park grade allowing the park experience to be continuos and without traffic conflict. When the park was finally built, carriage roads, walking routes, and bridle paths within the park (and future parks - Nethermead Arches, Prospect Park) were dealt with similarly lending to a "seamless" experience of movement and vistas.

Meadows, woods, and a pedestrian mall and water terrace (Bethesda terrace) were included in the park. The pedestrian mall fulfilled a desire of the plan, as a place where people could "see and be seen." The mall axis was oriented in the direction of the Ramble, a primary scenic piece of the plan.

The title Landscape Architect was first used by Olmsted and Vaux when they won the design competition for Central Park. They invented the name to convey their intent to bear toward the total landscape the same relation that an architect bears toward a building, with essential emphasis on design. (info from Colorado State University)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

1992: Singapore bans chewing gum

Chewing gum causes problems in Singapore, apparently much bigger problems than elsewhere.

In 1983 a gum ban was proposed because of problems in public housing. Vandals stuffed used gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes and on elevator buttons. Chewing gum left on floors, stairways and pavements increased the cost of cleaning and damaged cleaning equipment. Gum stuck on the seats of public buses annoyed passengers.

Government leaders thought that a ban would be too drastic and did not take immediate action. In 1987, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, began operation. It was then the largest public project ever implemented in Singapore, and expectations were high. Vandals stuck gum on the door sensors, preventing the doors from functioning properly and causing disruption of train service. In 1992, new Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong decided on a ban.

The import of chewing gum was immediately halted. A transition period was provided for stores to sell their their existing inventory, and then the sale was completely terminated. When first introduced, the ban caused controversy and some open defiance. Some people went to nearby Malaysia to buy gum. A few tried to bring back more than what is legally permitted. These offenders were publicly "named and shamed" to deter other would-be smugglers. As time passed and the uproar died down, Singaporeans became accustomed to the lack of chewing gum. There was no black market.

In the mid 1990s, Singapore’s forbidding laws began to receive intense international attention. The US media sensationalized the case of Michael P. Fay, an American teenager sentenced to caning for vandalism (spray paint, not chewing gum). At this time Singapore gained its infamous "nanny state" image, with actions of every citizen scrutinized and dictated by the government.

Singapore leaders responded that as a sovereign state, Singapore had the right to form policies based on its unique political and cultural values, and these policies result in greater overall benefits. When a BBC reporter suggested that overly draconian laws would stifle the people's creativity, an official retorted: "If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana."

In 1999, US President Bill Clinton and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong agreed to initiate talks for bilateral free trade. The talks continued during the Bush administration. By the final phase of negotiations in early 2003, there remained two sticky issues: the War in Iraq and chewing gum.

US officials requested that Singapore express support for US invasion of Iraq, which was readily agreed to. The US also demanded that Singapore lift the gum ban, because of lobbying for the Wrigley gum company. This caused a serious dilemma to Singapore leaders. They knew that the agreement would be a great boost to Singapore's economy and they could not afford to be delayed by the chewing gum issue; but giving in would make them look bad.

Singapore came up with a creative solution. They recognized the health benefits of certain gums, such as Wrigley's Orbit sugar-free gum that contains calcium lactate to strengthen tooth enamel, and Pfizer's smoke-stopping Nicorette gum. They allowed sales of these medicinal gums, by dentists and pharmacists, who record the names of buyers. (info from BBC and Wikipedia)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

1889: Italian king tastes first pizza

Long before Italians ate pizza, Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians and other ancient Middle Eastern people baked flat bread in mud ovens. It was like pita, which is still common in Greece, and in Greek restaurants in the US. Greeks, Romans and their neighbors added the original toppings: olive oil and spices -- but probably no tofu, pineapple or barbecue chicken.

The modern pizza is believed to have been developed by poor people in Naples, Italy. In 1889, Rafaele Esposito of the Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi (now called Pizzeria Brandi), is said to have created a dish for Italy's King Umberto and Queen Margherita. In order to impress them and show his patriotism, Esposito topped the dough with food that would represent the colors of Italy: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil. The king and queen were impressed, and the dish became very popular.

By the beginning of the 1900's, Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States, particularly to New Haven, New York and Chicago. Because those cities had large Italian populations, restaurants began serving pizza. American soldiers who tried pizza while fighting in Italy in World War II, encouraged restaurants to offer it when they got home.

The first pizzeria in the United States was probably Lombardi's in New York. The second may have been Frank Pepe's in New Haven. (info from Pizza-pedia and other sources)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

2008: first woman wins an "Indy" car race

Danica Patrick became the first female winner in IndyCar history Sunday, capturing the Indy Japan 300 in her 50th career start.

“I’m glad it finally happened,” the 26-year-old driver said. “But I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think it would be me.”

Her car's owner was ecstatic, insisting more victories await. Her family could not congratulate her enough. All of which made Patrick a bit teary.

“When it actually happened, maybe it was a little anticlimactic,” she said. “Then the emotions came out and that was a little girly of me.”

Win No. 1 was a long time coming. Patrick finished a career-best seventh in the standings last year when her best finish was second in the race at Detroit’s Belle Isle. Her first IndyCar race was in 2005. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

1452: invention of the handkerchief

Animals and human beings have been sneezing since the beginning of time, but until relatively recently, people made no effort to limit or deflect the expulsion of mucus.

Some more polite people used a convenient sleeve, drapery or corner of a tablecloth to shield others from their nasal emissions; but apparently it was an Italian chef who was the first known man to carry a piece of fabric specifically for use as a handkerchief.

Giuseppe Roberto Cafarelli (1419 - 1478) was an innovative chef who served the important Medici family in Florence, including diplomat, politician, and art patron Lorenzo de' Medici, and Pope Leo X.

Cafarelli was unusually health conscious for his time, and was also concerned that a strong sneeze could disturb the delicate crusts on his pastries. He insisted that his kitchen staff not only use handkerchiefs that were supplied fresh daily by his wife Filomena, but turn their heads away from the food while sneezing.

The Medici family rewarded Chef Cafarelli for his healthful innovation and good cooking with the construction of Cafarelli Piazza in Rome.

In the 16th century, the handkerchief made the transition from healthful utility to fashion accessory. They were made of fine cloth with fancy decorative edges and were displayed instead of hidden.

Supposedly Marie Antoinette was frustrated that handkerchiefs were offered in so many shapes, that her husband, King Louis XVI of France (1754–1793), made it a law that all handkerchiefs must be square, and they have remained square ever since.

During the 20th century it became fashionable for men to place a handkerchief in the left breast pocket of their suit coat with just an inch of the fabric showing. They were made in a variety of colors, though white was preferred. Though people no longer dangle a handkerchief from their hand as a fashion gesture, the handkerchief has remained a common item for personal use, but paper tissue is more commonly used. (some info from fashion encyclopedia)

Monday, April 21, 2008

2008: first papal visit to an American synagogue

On Friday, Benedict XVI became the first Roman Catholic Pope to visit a Jewish place of worship in the United States, telling a group of Jewish New Yorkers, “Dear friends, Shalom.”

The pope expressed his esteem for “the Jewish community in New York City,” and for his host, Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue, a Holocaust survivor who extended the invitation to him, and extolled the virtues of “building bridges of friendship” between people of all faiths.

Pope Benedict mentioned the coming Passover holiday: “as you prepare to celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty,” and described the emotional power for him “to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this.”

Jewish men and women sat in the pews to the left, the men wearing white yarmulkes. In the pews to the right were a group of Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops wearing red skullcaps. From the balcony above, their caps suggested the beginning of a game of checkers.

In an exchange of gifts, the pope gave Rabbi Schneier a replica of a medieval Hebrew parchment, part of the Vatican library collection, containing the legal writings of a renowned rabbinical scholar, Jacob Ben Asher. Members of the synagogue gave the pope a silver Seder plate and a large package of matzo, which the pontiff said he would eat on Saturday, drawing hearty laughs. (info from The New York Times, photo from The Associated Press)

Friday, April 18, 2008

1890: last state makes Christmas a holiday

During the middle and late 1800s, Christmas became so popular that it began to be declared a state holiday. Alabama was the first state to do so, in 1836. By the time of the Civil War another 28 states had made it a holiday. All US states and territories recognized Christmas as a holiday by 1890, with Oklahoma the last. Federal employees were given Christmas as a paid holiday starting in 1885. (info from

Thursday, April 17, 2008

1982: first US execution by lethal injection

On Wednesday, The US Supreme Court voted 7-2 to reject inmates' challenges to the procedure in Kentucky that use three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates who have been sentenced to death.

Lethal injection had first been proposed as a means of execution in 1888 when New York considered it, but ultimately opted for electrocution. In 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt lethal injection. Texas performed the first execution by lethal injection in 1982 with the execution of Charles Brooks.

16 states and the federal government authorize lethal injection as the sole method of execution. 20 other states provide for lethal injection as the primary method of execution, but provide alternative methods depending upon the choice of the inmate, the date of the execution or sentence, or the possibility of the method being held unconstitutional. As of April 1, 2008, 929 (85%) of 1,099 executions performed since 1976 have been by lethal injection, including 443 of the last 448 executions.

State statutes typically provide: "The punishment of death must be inflicted by continuous, intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultrashort-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent until death is pronounced by a licensed physician according to accepted standards of medical practice."

The execution protocol for most jurisdictions authorizes the use of a combination of three drugs. The first, sodium thiopental or sodium pentothal, is a barbiturate that renders the prisoner unconscious. The second, pancuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant that paralyzes the diaphragm and lungs. The third, potassium chloride, causes cardiac arrest. Each chemical is lethal.

The inmate is escorted into the execution chamber and is strapped onto a gurney with ankle and wrist restraints. The inmate is connected to a cardiac monitor which is connected to a printer outside the execution chamber. An IV is started in two usable veins, one in each arm, and a flow of normal saline solution is administered at a slow rate. One line is held in reserve in case of a blockage or malfunction in the other. At the warden’s signal, 5.0 grams of sodium pentothal (in 20 cc of diluent) is administered, then the line is flushed with sterile normal saline solution. This is followed by 50 cc of pancuronium bromide, a saline flush, and finally, 50 cc of potassium chloride.

The most common problem encountered is collapsing veins and the inability to properly insert the IV. Some states allow for a Thorazine or sedative injection to facilitate IV insertion. (info from

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

1150: first Ph.D degree awarded

The origin of the doctorate degree dates back to the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") in the medieval Islamic schools from the 9th century, though it was limited to Islamic law at the time, as in a Doctor of Laws degree.

The doctorate was later extended to philosophy in European universities in the Middle Ages which generally placed all academic disciplines outside the professional fields of theology, medicine and law under the broad heading of "philosophy" (or "natural philosophy" when referring to science). The degree of Doctor of Philosophy was generally granted as an honorary degrees to well-established scholars.

According to Wellington, Bathmaker, Hung, MucCullough and Sikes (2005), the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150; but not until the early nineteenth century did the term "Ph.D." acquire its modern meaning as the highest academic doctoral degree, following university practice in Germany.

The authors explain that prior to the 19th century professional doctoral degrees could only be awarded in theology, law or medicine. In 1861, Yale University adopted the German practice of granting the degree to younger students who had completed a prescribed course of graduate study and successfully defended a thesis/dissertation containing original research in science or in the humanities.

From the US the degree spread to Canada in 1900, and then to the UK in 1917. (info from Wikipedia, photo from Univ. of North Carolina)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

1908: first female cop in the US

One hundred years and two weeks ago, on April 1, 1908, Lola Baldwin was hired as the first female police officer in the United States, in Portland, Oregon.

Aurora (“Lola”) Greene Baldwin (1860-1957) began her career as a teacher. After her marriage, she volunteered as a social worker with young women in several eastern cities. Her Traveler’s Aid Association protected young female visitors to the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. When the exposition closed, she continued providing services through the YWCA, and later, through authorization from the City Council (which stipulated that she and her assistants pass the police civil service exam).

As the country’s first sworn policewoman, Baldwin joined women in the fields of social work, public health and juvenile justice to exemplify the Progressive Era notion of the “City Mother.” Baldwin went on to organize the Portland Juvenile Court in 1905, and was named its first probation officer for girls.

Baldwin was a suffragist, and advocated pay equity with men to keep young women from prostitution or crime. Baldwin was a charter member of the Oregon Social Hygiene Society which disseminated sex education and venereal disease prevention information.

After retiring from the Police Department in 1922, she served on the Oregon Parole Board and the National Board of Prisons and Prison Labor. Baldwin remained a lobbyist for policewomen’s issues, both locally and nationally, until her death.

After a century, the number of women serving as police officers is still low. Nationwide, women make up 14 percent of all officers. Only one percent of all police chiefs are female. (info from the New York Times and

Monday, April 14, 2008

2008: first woman appointed to Australia's highest office

Yesterday a woman was appointed for the first time as governor general -- the official representative of the British monarch and Australia's highest office. Quentin Bryce is a prominent lawyer, academic and women's activist. She will take office in September.

Today she said she was honored to take on the role but would not comment on whether she would be the country's last governor-general. With the recent election of the Rudd Government, there is new speculation of Australia becoming an independent republic and leaving the British Commonwealth of Nations.

"It's an issue for the Australian people and there will be a very robust and stimulating debate about that," she told reporters.

Law Society of New South Wales president Hugh Macken said her contribution to the legal community and her own successes had elevated the calibre of the profession. "The appointment of Quentin Bryce as governor-general is not only a testament to her extraordinary skill and expertise, but her appointment also recognises the extraordinary work she has done in helping to pave the way for women within the legal profession. She has been a pioneer in all aspects of her life and the news of her position is not only another milestone in her exemplary career to date, but a historic moment for the nation, the legal community and women lawyers within Australia." (info and photo from the Sidney Morning Herald)

Friday, April 11, 2008

1820: first sighting of Antartica

The ancient Greeks first came up with the idea of Antarctica. They knew about the Arctic - named Arktos ("the Bear", from the constellation the great bear) and decided that in order to balance the world, there should be a similar cold Southern landmass that was the same but the opposite ("Ant - Arktos" - opposite The Bear.) They never actually went there, it was just a lucky guess!

In 1773, James Cook crossed the Antarctic circle and circumnavigated Antarctica. Although he did't sight land, deposits of rock seen in icebergs showed that a southern continent exists. He said, "I make bold to declare that the world will derive no benefit from it".

Captain Thaddeus Bellingshausen, a Russian naval officer, was the first to cross the Antarctic circle since Cook. He made the first sighting of the continent, reaching 69° 21'S, 2° 14'W - describing an "icefield covered with small hillocks." on Jan 27, 1820.

For some time, exactly who first saw Antarctica was in dispute. British naval officers William Smith and Edward Bransfield saw Antarctica on Jan 30th of the same year, followed by American sealer Nathaniel Palmer on Nov 16th.

This was the first time a continent had truly been "discovered," meaning that there weren't any native people living there who'd known about it for ages. (info from

Thursday, April 10, 2008

1976: first Earth vehicle lands on another planet

Viking 1 was launched Aug. 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976.

On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

2008: Apple iTunes is biggest music seller

Last week, Apple proclaimed that its iTunes store had surpassed Wal-Mart to become the No. 1 source of music sales in the United States.

Amazon, which still sells mostly CDs, was the No. 3 seller last year but has since lost market share and is now tied with Target for fourth place. Best Buy is No. 3. (info from The New York Times)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

2008: first Pullitzer Prize to a rock poet

How does it feel?

This year's Pulitzer Prizes included a special citation to singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

Dylan said he was "in disbelief."

He was cited for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." His award marks the first Pulitzer given to a rock musician. (info from The Los Angeles Times, photo from

Monday, April 7, 2008

2000: first US hacker under 21 sentenced to jail

At 16 years old, Jonathan James gained enormous notoriety when he was the first minor to be sent to prison for hacking. He said he was just having fun looking around and enjoyed the challenge.

Also known as "c0mrade", the South Florida native was 15 years old at the time of the first offense and 16 years old on the date of his sentencing

Between August and October of 1999, James committed a series of intrusions into various systems, including those of BellSouth and the Miami-Dade school system. What brought him to the attention of federal authorities, however, was his intrusion into the computers of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, part of the Defense Department, which analyzes potential threats to the US.

James later admitted he installed an unauthorized "backdoor" in a computer in Virginia, which he used to install a "sniffer" that allowed him to intercept over 3,000 messages to and from DTRA employees, along with numerous DTRA usernames and passwords, including at least 10 on military computers.

A previous intrusion was also traced back to James, into NASA computers. These occurred in 1999, when James targeted computers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. NASA alleged that James had downloaded proprietary software worth $1.7 million. This intrusion, when detected, caused NASA to shut down its computers for three weeks, costing $41,000 to check and fix its systems. It was later revealed that the precise software obtained was the International Space Station's source code controlling critical life-sustaining elements such as oxygen filtering.

James' house was raided around 6AM on January 26, 2000, by agents from the Department of Defense, NASA and local police. James was formally indicted six months later. On September 21, 2000, he entered into an agreement with the US Attorney. He pleaded guilty to two counts of juvenile delinquency in exchange for a lenient sentence.

James was sentenced to six months in prison and probation until the age of eighteen, and was required to write letters of apology to NASA and the Department of Defense. He was also banned from using computers for recreational purposes.

However, the judge in the case later reversed her decision and allowed James to serve his six months under house arrest, with probation until the age of twenty one. James later violated probation and was taken into custody and served six months. Legal experts said that, given the extent of his intrusions, he would have served at least ten years if he had been an adult. (Photo from Info from and Wikipedia)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

time out

I'm taking a few days off.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

1908: first state bans booze
1966: last state bans booze ban

Mississippi was the first state to prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages, in 1908.

Mississippi was the first state to ratify the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, beginning the era of Prohibition, 1919-1920.

Mississippi was the last state to end statewide prohibition in 1966, 33 years after national prohibition had ended.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

1703: First April Fools Day

The origins of April Fools are complex and a matter of debate. It is likely a relic of the once common festivities held on the vernal equinox, which began on the 25th of March, old New Year's Day, and ended on the 2nd of April.

Though the first of April appears to have been observed as a general festival in ancient Britain, it was apparently not until the beginning of the 18th century that the making of April Fools was a common custom. In Scotland the custom was known as "hunting the gowk," i.e. the cuckoo, and April Fools were "April-gowks," the cuckoo being a term of contempt, as it is in many countries.

One of the earliest connections of the day with fools is Chaucer's story the Nun's Priest's Tale (c.1400), which concerns two fools and takes place "thritty dayes and two" from the beginning of March, which is April 1. The significance of this is difficult to determine.

Europe may have derived its April-fooling from the French. French and Dutch references from 1508 and 1539 respectively describe April Fools Day jokes and the custom of making them on the first of April. France was one of the first nations to make January 1 officially New Year's Day (which was already celebrated by many), by decree of Charles IX. This was in 1564, even before the 1582 adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

Thus the New Year's gifts and visits which had been the feature of the first of April became associated with the first day of January, and those who disliked or did not hear about the change were fair game for those wits who amused themselves by sending mock presents and paying calls of pretended ceremony on the first of April.

In France the person fooled is known as poisson d'avril (April fish). This has been explained as arising from the fact that in April the sun quits the zodiacal sign of the fish. The French traditionally celebrated this holiday by placing dead fish on the backs of friends. Today, real fish have been replaced with sticky, fish-shaped paper cut-outs that children try to sneak onto the back of friends' shirts. Candy shops and bakeries also offer fish-shaped sweets for the holiday.

Well-known pranks

Alabama Changes the Value of Pi: The April 1998 newsletter of New Mexicans for Science and Reason contained an article written by physicist Mark Boslough claiming that the Alabama Legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi to the "Biblical value" of 3.0. This claim originally appeared as a news story in the 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.

Spaghetti trees: The BBC television program Panorama ran a famous hoax in 1957, showing the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They had claimed that the despised pest the spaghetti weevil had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees.

Left Handed Whoppers: In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, saying that people could get a Whopper for left-handed people whose condiments were designed to drip out of the right side. Not only did customers order the new burgers, but some specifically requested the "old", right-handed burger.

Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to "reduce the country's debt" and renamed it the "Taco Liberty Bell." When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied tongue-in-cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

San Serriffe: The Guardian newspaper in England printed a supplement in 1977 praising this fictional resort, its two main islands (Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse), its capital (Bodoni), and its leader (General Pica). Intrigued readers were later disappointed to learn that San Serriffe (sans serif) did not exist except as references to typeface terminology. (This comes from a Jorge Luis Borges story.)

Metric time: Repeated several times in various countries, this hoax involves claiming that the time system will be changed to one in which units of time are based on powers of 10.

Smell-o-vision: In 1965, the BBC purported to conduct a trial of a new technology allowing the transmission of odor over the airwaves to all viewers. Many viewers reportedly contacted the BBC to report the trial's success.

Tower of Pisa: The Dutch television news reported once in the 1950s that the Tower of Pisa had fallen over. Many shocked people contacted the station.

Write Only Memory: Signetics advertised Write Only Memory IC databooks in 1972 through the late 1970s.

Annual BMW Innovations see a new "cutting-edge invention" by BMW advertised across British newspapers every year, examples including: Warning against counterfeit BMWs: the blue and white parts of the logo were reversed. The "Toot and Calm Horn" (after Tutankhamun), which calms rather than aggravates other drivers, so reducing the risk of road rage. MINI cars being used in upcoming space missions to Mars. IDS ("Insect Deflector Screen") Technology - using elastic solutions to bounce insects off the windscreen as you drive. SHEF ("Satellite Hypersensitive Electromagnetic Foodration") Technology, which sees the car's GPS systems synchronise with home appliances to perfectly cook a meal for the instant you return home.

Sheng Long - Electronic Gaming Monthly's infamous hoax of a secret character in Street Fighter II.

There have been several other EGM pranks that readers have fallen for. Among them: claiming that some Street Fighter II characters possessed unlisted special moves, including Chun-Li hurling her bracelets at an opponent, Sega mascots Sonic and Tails appearing as playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and the release of a graphically-remade The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker as a preorder bonus. All such pranks have been met with praise and equal hatred from its readers, as can be seen in the "April Fools" letters section in the May issue.
EGM repeated the Sheng Long hoax again with Street Fighter III. (info from Google)
By the way, I made up the 1703 date for the first April Fools Day up at the top. April Fools! I also confess to a decade-long series of reports of fake news about the phone business. CLICK for the latest edition.