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Practical Jokes in History

The escalating prank war between Ripcord’s Abby Binder and Marilyn Dunne appears shocking when set in their assisted living home, but practical jokes enjoyed a long history before these headstrong women came along.

ANCIENT DINNER PARTY PRANK
Roman Emperor Elagabalus, who ruled from 218-222 AD, is believed to be the first to ever use a whoopee cushion when he fooled his guests into sitting on leather air-pillows.

MYSTERIOUS DELIVERIES
In 1810, Theodore Hook pranked a Mrs. Tottenham by ordering thousands of deliveries to her house on the same day, causing a massive traffic jam on her street in London. Among the goods delivered were 2,500 raspberry tarts, 12 pianos, a chamber organ, and a coffin for the lady of the house.

ELECTROSHOCK FOOLERY
In the late 1870s, the “Pulling Machine” became popular in New York saloons. Patrons were challenged to test their strength by pulling on two metal rings — only to receive a large electrical shock when they touched the rings. This particular prank resulted in a number of lawsuits from victims who sustained injuries.

MIT DOME PLAYS DRESS UP
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a history of logistically impressive practical jokes. In addition to playing host to myriad strange objects, the iconic MIT dome has, at various times, masqueraded as the Great Pumpkin, R2D2, and sheet music from Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” — a popular song for internet pranking.

– SARAH SCHNEBLY


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