The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History

Khalid Elhassan - March 27, 2022

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
An older Keely and his fraud, still going strong. Great Big Canvas

6. An Inventor Who Got Rich Throwing Science-y Sounding Words Around

John Keely demonstrated a prototype of his machine to guests in his workshop. He would pour water into its engine, then play a harmonica, violin, flute, or other musical instruments to activate the machine with sound vibrations. Soon, the device would gurgle, rumble, then come alive, with pressures of up to 50,000 psi on display gauges. Keely harnessed that power and arranged demonstrations in which thick ropes were ripped apart, iron bars were bent, twisted, and snapped in two, and bullets were driven through twelve-inch wooden planks.

He made up science-y sounding terminology to describe the principles of his invention. He described his engine as a “vibratory generator”. Then he began to tell observers that they were witnessing “quadruple negative harmonics”. At other times, he told gullible investors that he was going to make them filthy rich with his “hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacu-engine”. Whenever a listener sounded a note of skepticism, Keely drowned it with yet more science-y sounding phrases such as “vibratory negatives”, “atomic triplets”, “etheric disintegration”, and “atomic ether vibrations”. As seen below, he made a lot of money with such deceit.

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
The compressed air tank beneath Keely’s lab, that powered his engine. Wikimedia

5. This Fraudster Kept Up an Elaborate and Lucrative Deceit for a Long Time

John Keely tossed around a jumbled science word salad that sounded impressive to nonscientists. In actuality, what he said was pure pseudoscientific gibberish. It was effective pseudoscientific gibberish, however: within a short time, he managed to convince investors to give him the equivalent of $25 million in 2022 dollars as startup capital, which he used to found the Keely Motor Company. In subsequent years, investors handed him the equivalent of $110 million in today’s money for a stake in Keely’s enterprise.

Over two decades, Keely closely guarded the secret of his invention, and refused to share its details with anybody. But he continued to promise investors that the perfection of a commercial version of his machine was right around the corner. Throughout that time, the gullible continued to give him more and more money, despite the consensus of physicists that Keely was a quack and charlatan, and that perpetual motion such as he promised was physically impossible. Finally, when Keely died in 1898, the secret of his engine was revealed to the world. It had not been powered by water, but by a compressed air machine hidden two floors below. It was connected to the Keely engine by cleverly concealed pipes and hoses.

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
An ancient bust of Alexander the Great. Flickr

4. An Ancient Standoff Between a Greek and Indian Army

In May of 326 BC, the Battle of the Hydaspes was fought in what is now the Punjab between Alexander the Great of Macedon and the Indian King Porus. The Macedonian monarch successfully carried out a brilliant piece of military deceit that wrong-footed his opponent and caught him off guard, and set the stage for a complete Macedonian victory. When Alexander marched into the Punjab, King Porus set out to intercept the invaders. He beat them to the Hydaspes River, which Alexander would have to cross if he wanted to penetrate into Porus’ territory.

The Indian monarch then waited on the river’s far bank with his army to prevent Alexander from crossing. When the Macedonians arrived, Porus set his camp across the river from Alexander. He then shadowed Alexander’s movements from the opposite side, as the invader marched up and down the far bank in search of a safe crossing. So long as Porus shadowed the Macedonians from the opposite bank, a crossing of the deep and fast-moving river could prove catastrophic if made against opposition.

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
Phalanx attacks the center of King Porus’ army, by Andre Castaigne, 1898. Wikimedia

3. A Brilliant Piece of Deceit to Lull an Enemy Into Complacency

Alexander found himself in a standoff at the Hydaspes River, with an Indian army camped across the water from his own. If the Macedonians tried to cross, the Indians would be able to strike them at their most vulnerable mid-river. They could also fall upon and overwhelm a portion of Alexander’s on the Indian side of the river before the crossing was completed. So Alexander turned to a bit of brilliant deception to lull King Porus. The Macedonian marched his troops up and down his side of the river each day. The Indians vigilantly shadowed those movements at first. Over time, however, they became accustomed to them and grew complacent.

Alexander then quietly drew off the bulk of his army, and left behind a contingent to make noisy demonstrations in order to keep the Indians fixated on them. In the meantime, Alexander hurried to a crossing upriver, and safely got his force across the river, unopposed. Once on Porus’ side of the Hydaspes, Alexander advanced to attack him, and caught the Indians in a pincer. Porus’ army found itself between the main force under Alexander’s command, and the smaller contingent he left behind on the opposite side of the river to keep their enemy occupied. That contingent crossed the Hydaspes and fell upon the Indians’ rear and flank when they turned to face Alexander and the battle commenced. It was hard-fought, but the outcome was a total Macedonian victory, thanks to the successful deceit.

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
Many fell for the Tasaday deceit. National Geographic

2. A Stone Age Tribe in the Modern World

The world of anthropology was roiled by an elaborate bit of deceit that began on July 16th, 1971. That evening, an amazing discovery was announced on NBC’s Nightly News: “The outside world, after maybe a thousand years, has discovered a small tribe of people living in a remote jungle in the Philippines. Until now, the outside world didn’t know they existed… and they didn’t know the outside world existed. Their way of living is approximately that of the Stone Age.” The discovery of the Tasaday was announced by Manuel Elizalde, head of the Philippine government agency in charge of protecting cultural minorities, and crony of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

As Elizalde described it, he discovered the Tasaday after he received a tip from a local hunter about encounters with primitive tribesmen deep in the jungles of Mindanao. Elizalde tracked down the tip, and was astonished to find that the tribe had been isolated for over a thousand years, with no contact with the outside world. As the discoverer of the Tasaday put it: “They didn’t realize there was a country. They didn’t realize there was a sea beyond Mindanao. … they did not even know what rice was.” They were also complete pacifists: “They have no words for weapons, hostility, or war“.

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
Cover of a book about the ‘gentle Tasaday’. Live Science

1. A Deceit That Fooled the World

Overnight, the Tasaday went from unknown to globally famous. Their pictures appeared on the covers of magazines, including National Geographic. Clips of the tribe were featured on news programs, numerous documentaries were made about the stone age denizens of the jungle, and a bestselling book, The Gentle Tasaday, was written about them. Celebrities flocked to visit and be photographed with them. However, when professional anthropologists sought to study them, the Tasaday and their region were abruptly declared off limits by Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It was only after his overthrow in 1986 that the truth came out, and it was revealed that the story of the stone age Tasaday was a fraud.

The Most Deceitful Events that Played Out In History
Real Tasaday. Wikimedia

Once journalists and anthropologists gained access to the Tasaday, they discovered that, far from being primitive stone agers, they lived like modern people, not in caves, but in houses. They did not run around naked and barefoot, but wore shirts, jeans, flip flops and shoes. Interviews revealed that Elizalde had pressured them to pretend to be stone-age primitives. Elizalde profited greatly from that deceit. He had set up a charitable foundation which raised millions of dollars to protect the Tasaday, their “way of life”, and their jungle habitat from encroachment by the outside world. In 1983, he fled the Philippines, after he stole millions from the foundation.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Physical Society News, March 2011, Volume 20, Number 3 – This Month in Physics History, March 16, 1699: William Chaloner Hanged

Central European History Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1 (2003) – The ‘Captain of Kopenick’ and the Transformation of German Criminal Justice 1891-1914

Chaudhury, Sushil – The Prelude to Empire: Plassey Revolution of 1757 (2000)

Cracked – 4 Impressively Weird Pranks From Centuries Ago

Cracked – German ‘Robin Hood’ Once Got the Military to Help Him Rob a Mayor

Dictionary of Canadian Biography – Lord Gordon Gordon

Donaldson, William – Brewer’s Rogues, Villains, and Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages (2004)

Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt – Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974 (1978)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Arminius, German Leader

Encyclopedia Britannica – Filippo Brunelleschi

Esquire, August 3rd, 2020 – Tasaday: The Stone Age Tribe That Never Was

Fuller, John Frederick Charles – The Generalship of Alexander the Great (1958)

Green, Peter – Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 BC: A Historical Biography (1974)

Guardian, The, December 11th, 2003 – Keely’s Trickster Engine

Head Stuff – William Chaloner, Master Counterfeiter

Herzog, Chaim – The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East From the 1948 War of Independence to the Present (2005)

History Collection – The Perfect Crime: 5 Criminals Who Disappeared Without a Trace

King, Ross – Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (2013)

Le Fleming, H. M. – Warships of World War I (1961)

Levinson, Thomas – Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist (2010)

Live Science, June 25th, 2008 – A Savage Hoax: The Cave Men Who Never Existed

Lock Haven University – The Keely Motor Hoax

Murdoch, Adrian – Rome’s Greatest Defeat: Massacre at the Teutoburg Forrest (2008)

History Collection – Remarkable Fraudulent Discoveries and Inventions that Shook the World

Museum of Hoaxes – Keely Motor Company

Museum of Hoaxes – Lord Gordon-Gordon

Naval History Net – World War I at Sea: British Special Service or Q-Ships

National Geographic Magazine, February, 2014 – Brunelleschi’s Dome

Spear, Thomas George Percival – Master of Bengal: Clive and His India (1975)

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