Until this year, the inventor of the electric toaster was, according to Wikipedia, a Scottish man named Alan MacMasters.
But when a random teenager saw the Scotsman’s photo on the online encyclopedia, he thought twice about submitting it.
This brief moment of suspicion was ultimately the first step in uncovering the truth, which was revealed by the UKTN this week.
The hoax started in 2012 when a university teacher warned their class not to use Wikipedia as a source, saying that a friend of theirs once edited the page about the toaster to say they were the inventor.
In this class was Alex, a man known among his friends as a prankster.
Taking this aside from his tutor as inspiration, Alex decided to edit the article to say that the electric toaster was invented in Edinburgh in 1893.
As for the fake inventor’s name, he looked at his friend sitting next to him, Alan MacMasters.
Fake Wikipedia article fools almost everyone
To see how far he could take the joke, Alex made Alan MacMasters his own Wikipedia page in 2013.
An archive of that page explained that his original invention was not commercially successful. It also claimed that the kettle could be attributed to him, along with some other regrettable information.
“Unfortunately, in 1894 the MacMasters Eclipse toaster had become the cause of one of Britain’s first fatal appliance fires,” the Wikipedia page states.
“A woman in Guildford was overwhelmed in her kitchen after the early elements melted and set the table on fire.”
The photo of Alan MacMasters on the Wikipedia page was actually Alex.
Alex figured the only problem that would arise if he made up an article devoted to an inventor who never existed would be that people would get the question wrong in pub trivia.
But everyone fell for the hoax.
A primary school in Scotland has dedicated a day to MacMasters, and he was nominated to appear on a £50 note when the Bank of England put the question to the public.
Even a museum in the US claimed that MacMasters was the inventor.
Daily mirror in the UK, MacMasters featured on the 2012 list titled: Life-changing everyday innovations that put British genius on the map.
When news of the hoax broke earlier this year, Alex anonymously told Wikipedia criticism website “Wikipediocracy” that he had no idea what impact his prank would have.
He said it first hit home when he found a book about Victorian inventors and found Alan MacMasters among them.
“In the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Alan was hailed as a reason why an independent Scotland could be a success. To this day, Scottish Government-funded organizations refer to Alan’s story,” he said, adding that it was all “farcical”.
Teen unravels complex hoax
Earlier this year, 15-year-old Adam Alan looked up MacMasters on Wikipedia after his teacher talked about the “inventor” in class.
The photo of MacMasters, who was actually Alex, seemed odd to Adam, who said he reads quite a bit of Wikipedia when he’s bored in class.
Adam told the UKTN that the photo of the famous inventor appeared to have been edited.
Alex told Wikipediocracy: “I uploaded a horribly photoshopped image of myself with a rip to hide my modern clothes.
“The haircut, mind you, was 100 percent real. Some of my friends protested that the photo looked too fake and wanted it removed immediately.
“But the absurdity of the photo was only part of the joke.”
Adam then raised the alarm online in a space dedicated to exposing vandalized Wikipedia accounts.
Who is the real Alan MacMasters?
The UKTN’s Marco Silva has tracked down the real Alan MacMasters, Alex’s real friend who took part in the prank.
It turns out he’s an aerospace engineer living in London who’s 30 years old, so there’s no way he invented the toaster.
Among those who fell for the Wikipedia hoax was Mr. MacMasters’ father.
“One day my father said to me: ‘Maybe we are related to the inventor of the toaster?’ And I had to disappoint him,” he told the UKTN.
He was fine with it too, saying his friend Alex was a prankster and that was the reason his friends “loved him”; however, he never expected the joke to last this long.
“Alan MacMasters’ article was a harmless joke,” said Alex, “but it’s depressing to think about how much malicious disinformation is spreading on the internet, causing mass hysteria and harming people’s lives.”