1. Silence Dogood
Ben Franklin knew all about faking it 'til you make it. At the age of 16, he apprenticed at his older brother's Boston print shop, publisher of The New-England Courant. Alas, James Franklin wasn't supportive of Ben's writing ambitions and rejected every piece he submitted. Desperate to get published—and to prove his brother wrong—the younger Franklin wrote a letter to the editor under the pseudonym Silence Dogood and slipped it under the shop's door at night. James Franklin found the middle-aged widow's social commentary humorous and, in 1722, printed 14 Dogood letters.
The letters really resonated with the community—a few eligible bachelors even mailed marriage proposals to the fictitious woman! When Ben came clean as the real Silence Dogood, James wasn't amused. But we all know who got the last laugh: Ben Franklin moved to Philadelphia and founded Poor Richard's Almanack 10 years later, while the Courant folded in 1726.
2. Titan Leeds's Death
The first edition of Poor Richard's Almanack, published in 1733, established an ongoing prank on Titan Leeds, an astrologer, competing almanac publisher, and frenemy of Ben Franklin. Under the pseudonym Poor Richard Saunders, Franklin predicted Leeds's death and encouraged readers to stick around to see if his prognostication was right. The feud that followed sold a lot of pamphlets, benefiting both publishers.
The next year, the Almanack printed an obituary for the still living Leeds and reported that the man claiming to be him was an identity thief. When Leeds actually died in 1738, Saunders commended the imposter for ending the prank once and for all. But Franklin doesn't get all the credit for this one. The hoax was inspired by Jonathan Swift, who used the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff to pull an enduring April Fool's Day joke on astrologer John Partridge in 1708.
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