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Remembering Taco Bell's April Fool's Joke - The Taco Liberty Bell Purchase

Posted on Thursday, April 1, 2021

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The Taco Liberty Bell?

On April 1, 1996, Americans awoke to surprising news: the Liberty Bell, the quintessential icon of American Freedom, had apparently been sold to the Taco Bell Company. The news had appeared in newspapers across the country in the form of full page ads, including in the hometown Philadelphia Inquirer.

An Alarmed Public

As if the sale itself wasn't shocking enough for history buffs, the news also came with the information that the Liberty Bell would henceforth be known as the "Taco Liberty Bell." Perhaps the part of the story that outraged Philadelphians the most, the Liberty Bell would apparently be leaving Philadelphia, its home for most of the preceding two and a half centuries, and headed to Taco Bell's California headquarters.

The Taco Liberty Bell?

As news of the Liberty Bell's sale spread, so did bewilderment that this sale was allowed to proceed. The Liberty Bell, beloved symbol of the abolitionist movement, the women's suffrage movement, the labor rights struggle and countless other fights for civil liberties throughout America's history would now be used to sell fast food tacos. Citizens jammed the phone lines at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia City Hall and other civic organizations where the public believed may have played a role in selling the Liberty Bell.

Taco Bell Advertisement - April 1, 1996

The sparse black and white ad that announced the Liberty Bell's sale noted that the Liberty Bell was being purchased in part because Taco Bell wanted to do its part in reducing the U.S. national debt. Nothing about the ad would lead readers to believe that the sale of the Liberty Bell was a joke, nothing... except the date: April First. April Fools' Day.

The National Park Service had to host an impromptu news conference in order to strongly deny the reports and assure the public that the Liberty Bell was not going anywhere and would never be known as the "Taco Liberty Bell."

Even as the news trickled out that the sale of the Liberty Bell was an April Fools' Day Prank, some remained upset. The Washington Post noted in an article that ran on April 2, 1996, that some of the anger surrounding the Taco Bell Prank was due to the fact that such a story was even believable in the first place. In an age of increasing corporate power when corporate sponsorships were proliferating and inserting themselves in ever increasing aspects of American life, it did not seem like too far of a leap that the Liberty Bell might have actually be sold.

The Ad of a Lifetime

While the prank rubbed some the wrong way, overall, the joke was an enormous success that brought tons of attention to Taco Bell. David Paine, the head of the PR company behind the campaign saw the prank as a crowning professional achievement that brought millions of dollars worth of free advertising to Taco Bell. The story made the news all across America and got everyone thinking about Taco Bell. And according to Michael Klein at the Inquirer, sales at Taco Bell spiked by over a million dollars in the two days following the ad.

While The Constitutional Walking Tours appreciates a good joke, we are very happy the Liberty Bell has remained and will always remain in Philadelphia for us to showcase on our tours of America's Birthplace. If you want to take The Constitutional and learn about the Liberty Bell, get your tickets now, our public walking tours of Historic Philadelphia start again today! And that's no April Fools' Day joke.

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