Soren Sorensen Adams was known as the ‘king of the professional pranksters’ after inventing a number of practical jokes such as the squirting lapel flower, the snake-nut can (when a can of nuts is opened to reveal a springed-snake), itching powder and the stink bomb. His first patent, sneezing powder, is now unavailable due to its toxicity.
Adams' 700 joke items also included invisible ink, the bug in a plastic ice cube gag and the joy-buzzer (which buzzes and vibrates with a handshake). Adams sold more than 3 million joy-buzzers during the 1930s when America was in the midst of the Depression. He wasn’t infallible though: he rejected the whoopee cushion on the grounds that it was too vulgar to sell well.
Adams began his business after he came across a coal-tar derivative during a job as a dye salesman. The product made the workers sneeze so the company, at great expense, managed to extract the irritating ingredient. They left barrels of the unwanted substance lying around, and one day Soren took some of the powder and placed it in a bottle. Soon, humorously-inclined friends began asking him for samples and he set himself up as the Cachoo Sneeze Powder Company.
In the first year Adams sold $15,000 worth of Cachoo. It became something of a craze throughout the end of the 1910s but was banned by America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a toxic substance around 25 years later.
Adams closely guarded his sneezing powder formula. Later powder was made from the hellebore plant (a concoction of which supposedly killed Alexander the Great) until a 1983 report from a poison control centre in France examined nine cases of children who were poisoned by the powder. Today's sneezing powders are mostly made from white pepper.
There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes his whole universe for a vast practical joke.
The story is that if you stick the hand of a sleeping person in a bowl of warm water, the victim will wet himself. Everybody knows somebody who's done the trick and some people will swear that they have seen it happen, but there is no clear medical reason why an unconscious sensation of water will stimulate a sleeper's bladder, and almost all claims appear to be second-hand at best.
The only study that we can find is from the excellent, but not particularly scientifically-rigorous, Mythbusters. They tried the trick a number of times with zero wet beds. On balance, considering that anecdotal evidence in such cases is as bad as no evidence at all, it seems the story is nothing more than a sleepover myth.
Humor has a way of bringing people together. It unites people. In fact, I'm rather serious when I suggest that someone should plant a few whoopee cushions in the United Nations.
The whoopee cushion is a classic design; it hasn't been re-designed since its launch in 1932. But the idea of sitting down to make a funny noise is much older, Queen Victoria was given a musical bustle in 1887 for her Golden Jubilee which played 'God Save the Queen' when the wearer sat down. The Roman Emperor Elagabulus used an early version of the whoopee cushion at his dinner parties.
The Quad City Mallards ice hockey team hold the world record for the largest simultaneous whoopee cushion sit with 3,614 sitters taking part at Moline, Illinois, USA.
Whoopi Goldberg got her stage name from her childhood flatulence, and the fact that it made her sound like a whoopee cushion.
‘Espiegle’ means frolicsome or roguish. It comes from Till Eugenspiegel, the ancient famous German practical joker.