Welcome back to history lessons with Caleb — the best place to learn about wacky historical events from a college student named Caleb!In the late 1930s, a fad of swallowing goldfish swept through college campuses across the United States. It all started with a man named Lothrop Withington, Jr., because of course it started with somebody with a name like that.
Our dear friend Lothrop Withington, Jr. (by the way, I looked it up and there is in fact a Lothrop Withington III), was a first-year at Harvard in 1939. After bragging to his friends about his past feat of eating a live fish, he was challenged to do it again with a $10 bet incentive.
Leaning into typical college student behavior, Withington Jr. went out and bought a goldfish. The unlucky fish was not large, just about three inches according to Life magazine, which covered the story for some reason.
On the fateful day of March 3rd, standing and grinning in front of a crowd of peers, Lothrop Withington, Jr. dropped the live goldfish into his mouth, chomped down on the little fellow a couple of times and swallowed.
Apparently, the act was more than satisfactory to the onlookers as this was just the beginning of a sweeping trend that took the country by storm.
Due to the coverage of the event by Life magazine, the story was quickly popularized and replicated by colleges from various regions of the country.
However, the trend did not stop there. It had too much potential.
Let me pose a question to you. What’s more entertaining to college students of the 1930s than a person swallowing one live goldfish? The answer is a person swallowing multiple live goldfish.
The goldfish swallowing went from a trend to an outright competition. Students would compete to see how many goldfish they could down in a single sitting. Rivalries between students and schools developed.
According to an archive of cultural trends, Mortal Journey, the record for most live goldfish consumed in one sitting belongs to Clark University’s Joseph Deliberato. The man reportedly ate 89 live goldfish on a single day in April of 1939.
As the fad grew, so did pushback.
Eventually, a Massachusetts state senator introduced a bill with the goal, “to preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption.”
The bill combined with pressure from animal rights activists dampened the popularity of the goldfish swallowing fad.
This specific trend may have died off, but something in our human nature drives us to eat strange and unhealthy objects. Lest we forget about the tide pod consumption craze.