Up until this year the inventor of the electric toaster, according to Wikipedia, was a Scottish man named Alan MacMasters.
But when a random teenager saw the photograph of the Scotsman on the online encyclopaedia, it made him think twice about the entry.
This brief moment of suspicion ended up being the first step in exposing the truth, which was revealed this week by the BBC.
The hoax started back in 2012 when a university lecturer warned their class about not using Wikipedia as a source, saying a friend of theirs had once edited the page about the toaster to say they were the inventor.
In this class was Alex, someone known among his friends as a joker.
Alex took this aside from his lecturer as inspiration and decided to edit the article to say the electric toaster was invented in Edinburgh in 1893.
As for the name of the faux inventor, he looked to his friend sitting next to him, Alan MacMasters.
False Wikipedia article fools almost everyone
In 2013, to see just how far he could take the joke, Alex made Alan MacMasters his very own Wikipedia page.
An archive of that page explained that his original invention was not commercially successful. It also claimed the electric kettle could be attributed to him, along with some other regrettable information.
“Unfortunately, by 1894, the MacMasters Eclipse toaster had become the cause of one of Britain’s first deadly appliance fires,” the Wikipedia page said.
“A woman in Guildford was overcome in her kitchen after the early elements melted and ignited the table.”
The picture of Alan MacMasters on the Wikipedia page was actually Alex.
Alex thought the only problem to arise out of him making up an article dedicated to an inventor who never existed would be people getting the question wrong in pub trivia.
But everyone fell for the hoax.
A primary school in Scotland has a day dedicated 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 MacMasters was the inventor.
Daily Mirror in the UK put MacMasters on its 2012 list titled: Life-changing everyday innovations which 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 the impact his prank would have.
He said it first hit home when he found a book on 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 organisations refer to Alan’s story,” he said, adding the whole thing was “farcical”.
Teen unravels complex hoax
Earlier this year, 15-year-old Adam looked up Alan MacMasters on Wikipedia after his teacher spoke about the “inventor” in class.
The picture of MacMasters, who was really Alex, seemed off to Adam, who said he reads Wikipedia quite a bit when he is bored in class.
Adam told the BBC the photo of the famed inventor appeared to be edited.
Alex told Wikipediocracy: “I uploaded a terribly photoshopped image of myself with a rip to hide my modern clothes.
“The coiffure, mind you, was 100 per cent real. A couple of my friends protested that the photo looked too fake and felt that it would be taken down immediately.
“But the absurdity of the photo was just part of the joke.”
Adam then sounded the alarm online in a space dedicated to exposing vandalised Wikipedia accounts.
Who is the real Alan MacMasters?
Marco Silva from the BBC actually tracked down the real Alan MacMasters, Alex’s real-life friend who was in on the joke.
It turns out he is an aerospace engineer who lives in London and is 30 years old, so there is no way he invented the toaster.
Among those who fell for the Wikipedia hoax was the father of Mr MacMasters.
“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 BBC.
He was also fine with the whole thing, saying his friend Alex was a joker and that was the reason his friends “love him”; however, he never expected the joke to go on for as long as it did.
“The Alan MacMasters article was a harmless joke,” Alex said, “but it’s depressing to think about how much malicious misinformation spreads on the internet causing mass hysteria and damaging people’s lives.”