He was considered a national heroThe alleged inventor of the toaster fooled the world for 10 years
For more than a decade, the prankster has been spinning a web of hoaxes about the inventor of the electric toaster. His lies were picked up by newspapers, teachers and officials.
It’s about it
Two students allowed themselves a joke and made the Scotsman «Alan MacMasters» the inventor of the electric toaster on Wikipedia.
The fraud remained undetected for ten years – meanwhile the fictitious man was hailed as a national hero in Scotland.
It wasn’t until 2021 that a 15-year-old schoolboy noticed that something could be wrong with a Wikipedia article.
“I often read Wikipedia when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent, UK. to the BBC. One day in July last year, one of his teachers mentioned an entry in an online encyclopedia about one Alan MacMasters, a late 19th-century Scottish scientist who allegedly invented “the first electric toaster.” The entry contained a picture of a man with a prominent arm and long sideburns, gazing thoughtfully into the distance – apparently a 19th century relic. Adam became suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he says. It seemed edited. At home, he decided to voice his suspicions on a forum dedicated to Wikipedia vandalism.
Because like most Wikipedia articles, this one was peppered with references: news articles, books, and websites that claimed to provide evidence of the MacMasters’ life and legacy. As a result, many people accepted that MacMasters did exist.
He worked it into more than a dozen books
More than a dozen books published in various languages have credited him as the inventor of the toaster. And until recently, the toaster electric appliance was even featured on the Scottish Government’s website as an example of the country’s “innovative and inventive spirit”.
In his supposed homeland, MacMasters became something of a folk hero. A Scottish primary school held an activity day in his memory – children were encouraged to write journals about MacMasters, paint on toast and pretend to make toasters out of bricks.
Edinburgh-based chef Scott Smith created an elaborate dessert in his honor when he took part in BBC cookery show Great British Menu.
He was a candidate for the £50 note
When the Bank of England asked the British public in 2018 who should appear on the next £50 note, MacMasters was nominated – and included in a list of 988 other clearly eligible candidates who have made significant contributions to science.
The Bank of England declined to comment to the BBC for this story, but confirmed that MacMasters had been dropped following further checks. As the world got to know the alleged Scottish inventor, someone in London couldn’t help but smile as the name “Alan MacMasters” kept popping up on his screen: The real Alan MacMasters, 30, is an aeronautical engineer from London “and not the inventor of the toaster,” he laughed and assured a BBC reporter. One should not believe everything one reads on the internet, i.e. its message.
Students act as authors
Because Alan knows the truth: he was there when the toasting started more than ten years ago. On 6 February 2012, Alan was attending a university lecture when the class was warned against using Wikipedia as a resource. To clarify, the speaker said that a friend of his – a certain “Maddy Kennedy” – was credited on the website as the inventor of the toaster.
Alan and his classmates thought the story was “funny” but considered correcting the article. After all, one of Wikipedia’s special features is that almost anyone can edit it. Sitting right next to Alan was one of his closest friends, Alex, who volunteered to edit the article himself. Alex recalls: “I just changed that my friend who was sitting next to me, Alan MacMasters, invented the toaster in Edinburgh in 1893.”
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