The Greatest Pranks and Gag Gifts in History (they might surprise you).
If it weren’t for pranks you wouldn’t have an iPhone, iPad, MacBook or iPod (or the ability to buy one of Steve Jobs’ marvellous products).
Think I’m joking?
However ironic that may be, I’m not. Pranks and gag gifts go back a long time, from the infamous whoopee cushion, to fake poop, to mail order revenge. So let’s start from the beginning.
History of Pranks & Gag Gifts
When do you think pranking started, a couple of hundred years ago maybe?
Think a few thousand (if not more).
Back in the fifth century arguably one of the greatest pranks in history came from Emperor Constantine. He was pretty hilarious (as far as Roman’s went) but wasn’t known for taking criticism too well.
So when someone poked fun at his leadership he made a pretty big deal out of it.
It just so happened a court jester joked that he could do a better job of ruling the empire than old Constantine. So he gave them a chance to prove it.
Setting aside one day a year when the jester’s would indeed rule the Empire. April fools’ day!
Or is that where April Fools’ Day came from?
Could this be another big hoax?
The origin of the Romans being responsible for April fools day was completely made up, by Professor Joseph Boskin, in 1983. He pitched the idea to a journalist who ran the story on the Associated Press.
The story was released, and a few weeks later Boskin revealed it was all a joke.
So, what has this got to do with Steve Jobs?
He was a prankster through and through. From printing “bring your pet to school day” posters, and planning for a poster to lower during his graduation sporting a huge “middle finger”, to more technical pranks with Steve Wozniak.
Jobs’ big prank? Him and Wozniak created a box to mess with aerials, making TV’s lose signal. This lead them to make their “blue box”, which mirrored AT&T’s phone systems so users could make free calls.
These more technical pranks, Kembew Mcleod would argue, started him and Wozniack on the road to creating more and more advanced technology together.
So, if they hadn’t bonded over creating the “blue box” tech to mess with people, Mcleod is 100% sure Apple wouldn’t exist.
History of Practical Joke Devices
When was the last time a prank made you howl with laughter? Probably never. They aren’t known for being side splittingly hilarious.
Instead they’re often crude, rude, obvious and a tad cruel, which is much more satisfying.
Pranksters hail from a place of creativity and anti-authority. They don’t like being told what to do.
So, let’s talk about some of your favourite old-school pranks and where they come from.
The Whoopee Cushion
Some people argue, including Jim Dawson of “Who Cut the Cheese”, the whoopee cushion goes as far back as medieval courts, where jesters would turn pigs bladders into fart devices.
(Can we just hold up for a second and recognise that Jim Dawson is a self-proclaimed “fartologist”. Yep, that’s an actual job.)
Whoopee cushions broke into pop culture in the 1930’s, thanks to a Canadian company JEM. They were originally called the “poo-poo cushion” or the “boop boop a doop”. But, the company decided on “whoopee” in 1932.
The science (if you can call it that) behind the cushion is that air rushes inside and the valve flaps slap shut. As the air comes back out the valve flaps pulsate, causing the ever-so recognisable “fart” noise.
And the gag has been a hit of the young and old ever since.
The Stink Bomb
Ah! The silent, but ever so deadly, predator.
A pranking favourite. In fact, a 400-year-old pot, thought to have held olive oil, has been confirmed as a ‘stinkpotten’. Or as we would call it a stink bomb.
The original ‘stinkpotten’ was used to clear rooms during raids. These bombs would be filled with stuff like pepper, charcoal and sulphur. They’d be thrown into a room, smashing, and pretty effectively evacuating the premises.
Stink bombs are still used today in chemical warfare and police raids. The Guinness World Records book has identified the two smelliest chemical compounds. These are:
- The “US Government Standard Bathroom Malador” (which smells like poo)
- “Who Me?”, used in World War II by the French and it smells like rotting food and carcasses
You are most likely to have experienced the rotten egg bomb. The least lethal of stink bombs. It contains ammonium sulphide (the rotten egg smell) and when the sulphide is released it reacts with moisture in the air and causes the signature smell.
The Fake Excrement
This is another one of the ‘good old’ pranks. Fake poo and fake vomit.
Fake vomit came about in the 1950’s, it was invented by an employee at Marvin Glass and Associates (the company that also brought us Chattery Teeth, quite the jokers). But the company in the name of ‘bad taste’ rejected the idea.
So what made them change their minds?
A presentation to the manufacturing company H. Fishlove & Co. went south. And seeing his opportunity, the designer entered the presentation and placed his invention on the table.
Fishlove loved it, and so the fake vomit was born.
When it comes to fake poop, you can now get hold of some real high quality crap, thanks(?) to the developments in poop creating technology.
A company called ‘Liquid Ass’ prides themselves on their ‘hand made’ poop, as ‘no two are like’. Boasting, ‘these are movie quality turds that will be sure to impress your friends’.
Go get ‘em tiger.
However childish and gross fake poop might be, the developments in ‘synthetic feces’ are important.
I bet that’s a sentence you didn’t think you’d ever read.
In fact, fake poop is helping bring sanitation to the third world. Researchers over at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are finding ways to bring sanitary ways to defecate to those who simply don’t have it.
To do this they needed lots and lots of fake poop. 50 gallons of it.
Mail Order Pranks
We have an entire article dedicated to mail order pranks.
These beauties have become a global phenomena of our digital age. Gone are the days of leaving burning poop outside an enemies house in a paper bag, or physically posting it through the letter box. Now you can get someone else to do the ‘dirty work’ for you.
Obviously we love Prank Candles as our favorite mail order prank.
One of the original mail order prank companies was Ship Your Enemies Glitter. Which, in fact, was a drunken media stunt from start to finish. The founder, Mathew Carpenter, took advantage of ‘lazy media’, trading up the chain from one media outlet to another until the whole thing became a huge story.
You can read the full story of how, and why, he did it here. But this paved the way for more and more mail order prank sites to come to the forefront.
Pranks are Forever
We’ve always pranked each other. And with the rise in popularity of mail order pranks, there’s no sign of stopping.
You still want to take time, effort and care into your pranks but don’t want to get caught…or do the dirty work.
Pranks pave the way for genius. Whether they come from a drunken idea, or the calculated deviance of two best friends, pranks are always evolving and always funny.
So go forth and keep on pranking, pranksters.