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1930s College Fun: Goldfish Swallowing

Updated on April 5, 2009

The Actual Fad Of Goldfish Swallowing Really Lasted Only 2 Months

...but it must have made an impact on the American psyche. Another misconception is goldfish swallowing is often thought of a fad that was made up in the Jazz Age Roaring 20's, but in reality goldfish swallowing was all the rage (well, not really) in 1939. Goldfish swallowing was a bona fide craze that began March of 1939 and by summer had run its course.

The amazing part is that very few fads can be traced back to one person, but goldfish swallowing can be. Actually you can trace it back not only to the first person, but to the very date, and the reason that goldfish swallowing began. All are well documented accounts. If you haven't guessed already like most idiotic stunts in America, this fad began on a college campus.Goldfish swallowing was started on the campus of the ivy league institution, Harvard. That's right kids... the beginning of the goldfish swallowing fad and later down the road... Dr. Timothy Leary and LSD experiments. The official date of the goldfish swallowing craze was March 3, 1939, but it really began a few nights earlier.

The man, in question had a name that outside of an ivy league school, would pretty much guarantee an ass-whoopin' or at very least a wedgie and his lunch money stolen: the man in question was Lothrop Withington, Jr. That's right... he was a "Junior" which means he wasn't the first in his family with the name Lothrop... it also proves that his parents were obviously children-hating sadists... anyway... One night good ol' Lothrop was bragging..yes!...bragging, about his ability to eat live fish... now there's a way to impress the chicks...guys if you want women to fall all over themselves, and beat a path to your door, so your never alone on a saturday night ever again, you need to start bragging about swallowing goldfish!.. the gals will throw themselves at you... Well... boys being the the "wholesome ivy schooled dandies" they where back then decided to play a game of truth or dare, and after being dared to admit he was lying... our hero.. Lothrop took the dare of eating a live goldfish. This was a big deal on the Depression era Harvard campus and a crowd showed up to watch Mr. Withington,Jr. melodramatically draw out the moment by grasping the little fish around by the tail and slowly lower it into his mouth like a circus geek swallowing a sword. He even added a few chews, before he defiantly took it down his gullet.

...And so was born the most asinine sensation ever born to grace the American lexicon of what is cool.

Who's The Man? Right Guys... hmmm..Guys?

In a 1963 letter to the New York Times, Lothrop claimed that the fad began in late 1938 when, he... Lothrop Withington Jr., as he self-describe, a then Harvard freshman with class presidential aspirations," was encouraged by his "campaign managers" to do so as a publicity stunt: "Reporters and photographers were inadvertently present in the Harvard Freshman Union when Withington swallowed his live goldfish (with a mashed potato chaser) and started a nationwide fad in the spring of 1939." The Times editor replied that "unless the Editor's memory is deceiving him, the goldfish-swallowing craze among school and college boys had begun at least as early as 1930." Apparently Lothrop's own memory was wrong, maybe from too much mercury (right Jeremy Piven)..., as a Time magazine article noted in a 1939, "Harvard Freshman Lothrop Withington Jr., son of a onetime (1910) Harvard football captain, started the fad sweeping U. S. campuses..."

O.K. Back To The Aftermath Of One Small Incident That All Started In March Of 1939

Soon the news of Withington swallowing a goldfish had spread like wildfire to other colleges, including Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Just three weeks later Frank Hope Jr. (what is it with these "Juniors"?) over-the -topped the Harvard man by swallowing three goldfish and declared Lothrop a sissy. Even though Frank added salt and pepper, and he refused to chew the fish; only opting to swallow (Hey! Frank...sissy bitch!).

Frank Hope's record was shattered within twenty-four hours, when another Franklin and Marshall student swallowed six fish. George Raab had decided to show Hope who the "sissy" was. Once these Franklin and Marshall students had joined in, the race was on between the two schools was on! Irving Clark Jr.(another "Junior"), a Harvard student, took up the school mantle and pride by swallowing two dozen goldfish, plus raised the ante by promising to eat any bug for a nickel, an angleworm for a dime, and even a beetle for only two bits (twenty-five cents...for you playing the home game).

After a week of competition between these two schools, many other colleges decide to toss their hat in the ring by deploying their school's garbagge guts. A student from the University of Pennsylvania, Gilbert Hollandersky, downed twenty-five goldfish and then quickly rid the taste from his mouth with a steak dinner (mmm...appetizer). Almost every day a new record was reported. Julius Aisner from the University of Michigan was able to swallow twenty-nine but Michael Bonner, the Albright College football captain, ate thirty-three. Albert Hayes, of MIT, powered through by gobbling forty-two fish.

Soon, where you swallowed the goldfish became just as important as doing the deed, places like Outside Boston's Opera House became vogue. Jack Smookler of Northeastern University swallowed thirty-eight in front of a small crowd. A veterinary student at Middlesex University, Gordon Southworth, stomached sixty-seven while standing next to a Soldier's Monument in Waltham Common. In fourteen minutes he was able to pull them one by one from an overflowing pail. A record that seemed it was going to last was made by Clark University's Joseph Deliberato. He digested eighty-nine goldfish at one sitting in early April.

Marie Hansen of the University of Missouri was the first female student to swallow a live goldfish. But a co-ed student of Boston University, Betty Hines, became known that spring because of the goldfish sugar cookies she had created.

It was university madness, and goldfish chaos everywhere...when would the carnage end?

Jazzy Number From 1930

Legislation Steps In, And Makes It Hard To Swallow

Finally, a Massachusetts state legislature introduced a bill that would "preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption." The president of the Boston's Animal League made sure that goldfish swallowers would be arrested if campus officials did not stop this behavior. A pathologist at the U.S. Public Health Service said that goldfish may contain tapeworms or harbor a disease that causes the swallower to become anemic.

In the spring of 1939 the rate of goldfish swallowing let up because of boredom, and because students at the time went home for spring-break...But the law believed it was because of the types of warnings that were made. Still once in a while campus' would produce a new champion for the record.

.... Before the 1970's, the record for goldfish gluttony was beyond three hundred. Thankfully though, this is a fad that had finally passed... until the popularity of sushi, of course.

Church To End Practice Of Goldfish Swallowing

From USA Today and The AP Wire Service 2005

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — The First Assembly of God Church has agreed to discontinue its practice of swallowing live goldfish as part of its Fear Factor ministry.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked for a ban on the practice. Youth minister Anthony Martin said earlier the goal of the exercise was to teach teens about fear.

"I do appreciate your concern and just wanted to let you know that this will never happen again," Pastor Greg Woodall replied to PETA in a letter. "My views are a reflection of yours. We love God's creatures and would never want to show them harm."

As part of the Fear Factor ministry at the church, teenage participants were asked to swallow live goldfish. No one reportedly became ill during the goldfish phase of the program.

PETA thanked the church for the ban by sending a gift basket of vegan Swedish fish, a gummy candy, as an alternative to live fish.

Barnes & Barnes: Fish Heads


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    9 years ago

    wow!Cool hub.

  • Kamran100 profile image


    9 years ago

    love fishes...nice and beautiful article...

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I like your hub,keep hubbing......

  • erlyn m. profile image

    erlyn m. 

    9 years ago from texas

    like it!

  • sligobay profile image


    9 years ago from east of the equator

    Hope you don't expect all of us to swallow this mullarkey. How about the live people et by the Sharkey?

  • mythbuster profile image


    9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

    Extreme fun comes in all kinds, I guess. Intresting and funny hub, St.James!

  • rose56 profile image


    9 years ago

    I found your hub full of info , wow what people will do. Here in Missouri a few years ago I read about a kid at a party wanting to get some attention said watch this as he swallowed a fish. Well that was hes last words. The fish got stuck in his wind pipe and he died. I couldn't believe that some one could be that stupid. WOW.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    Kind of a shushi-adkins diet combo... shinkicker. Maybe goldfish are like crisps... you can't eat only one

  • Shinkicker profile image


    10 years ago from Scotland

    Great Hub

    But 300 goldfish in one sitting? Would it not get boring after the first 150 or so. A varied diet in order there I think :-)

  • Teresa Laurente profile image

    Maria Teresa Rodriguez - Laurente 

    10 years ago from San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope the kids nowadays will never ever try this. More power.

  • grillrepair profile image


    10 years ago from florida

    this is a great hub! a subject i couldn't care less about but i read every word to the end. well done!

  • Isabelle22 profile image


    10 years ago from Somewhere on the coastline

    Lol don't people go to extremes :)

  • ThisGirlsOpinion profile image


    10 years ago

    Not my kind of fun, but glad some people used to enjoy it!

  • quicksand profile image


    10 years ago

    Hi SaintJ! A great New Year 2U!

  • Lee Thacker profile image

    Lee Thacker 

    10 years ago

    Favorite Hub of the DAy! Wow! You really put a lot of thought and positive thought into your hub article! Honestly I think I need to re-read it again to pick-up all the gems that you shared, as always...THANKS! Keep know I'm a fan!

  • Diecast Guy profile image

    Diecast Guy 

    10 years ago from Toronto,Ontario,Canada

    Great now I'm going to put a padlock on my fish tank. lol

    Great and interesting hub.

  • peter616 profile image


    10 years ago

    how could they?

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    Wow. I hadn't heard of this. IDK about swallowing 60+ live goldfish. I mean what does that feels like in your throat of stomach? Gross.

  • katyzzz profile image


    10 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Oh, the infidels, how could they?

  • C. Betancourt profile image

    C. Betancourt 

    10 years ago

    Excellent and Entertaining! What an awesome hub! You certainly provided everything I need to know about gold fish swallowing. Thank you!

  • RGraf profile image

    Rebecca Graf 

    11 years ago from Wisconsin

    Colleges - the place of higher learning and stupid acts.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    I was shocked when researching it.... thank you Dolores.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    11 years ago from East Coast, United States

    St. James, this was hilarious. Who would have thought that such a short lived, idiotic prank would did itself a niche in cultural history!

  • Cailin Gallagher profile image

    Cailin Gallagher 

    11 years ago from New England

    I've seen this in old movies, but didn't know the history. I worked at Harvard for 12 years, so I believe any weird tradition is possible there.

  • Amanda Severn profile image

    Amanda Severn 

    11 years ago from UK

    I'm pretty sure that I read a more 'intimate' variation on this theme in the book 'Lace' by Shirley Conran when I was a teenager. I remember that the particular page in question got quite dog-eared as it was passed around! I wonder if Miss Conran was inspired by Lothrop Withington Jr and his exploits?

  • blondepoet profile image


    11 years ago from australia

    St James we miss you honey bun. :(

  • profile image

    DjBryle Works 

    11 years ago

    Another very ineresting hub! You always give unique to mesmerizing informations everytime you write! Thanks for sharing =)

  • mayhmong profile image


    11 years ago from North Carolina

    Where have you been?!

    We miss ya!

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    All is well PackerPack... I'm just kinda taking a break, but I am working on a few ideas. I'll jump back in to Hubbing soon enough.

  • packerpack profile image

    Om Prakash Singh 

    11 years ago from India, Calcutta

    So you wrote this Hub about 3 weeks back. Like blondepoet, I too am worried about you. You Ok. So how many of them did you take in???? :) :) Just kidding.

    I enjoyed reading it. Didn't know these kinds of things happened.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    All is well.. just taking a break and working on some new ideas

  • blondepoet profile image


    11 years ago from australia

    St.James are you ok you have been so quiet, no new hubs which is unusual for you.Am a little worried

  • blondepoet profile image


    11 years ago from australia

    Lmao I should have known you would have an answer for everything James. Sorry I have taken so long to get back I am all over the place at the moment.This long weekend has been full on. Baby croc swallowing haha, those bumpy little critters would get lodged in my throat, there is only certain things I can swallow LMAO

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    The throw-back-up of goldfish was an antic made popular by Steve-O of Jackass... about 10 years ago. In 1939, the kids liked their goldfish to stay down (if possible) any chewed the fish first. I thought by now you folks downunder would have resulted to baby croc swallowing, BlondePoet.

  • blondepoet profile image


    11 years ago from australia

    Hey James, I just knew when I got here to expect something new from you. I was wondering when they swallow them, do they regurgitate them back up whole.I have seen it here in Oz when they swallow them whole and then throw em back up.... I think the whole thing is a little fishy, they are noobs LMAO. Haha. My fish has got to be on a plate well cooked.....I think MAyhmong needs your attention James she has asked you something above looooooooool

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    May ...I would think a kitten would understand why anyone would eat a goldfish or two.

  • mayhmong profile image


    11 years ago from North Carolina

    Hmmm...this may pose a challenge to fear factor.This reminds me of the old t.v movie of the Big Foot Harry.He ate all of the poor goldfish!? BTW, Need an opinion on the Extreme hub makeover! Please!

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    RKHenry... (hahaha!) sooo true! Thanks for chiming in.

  • RKHenry profile image


    11 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

    Excellent Hub! With the legislative body of Massachusetts's getting involve, it appears even more people were force to swallow down the taxes, the goldfish cost them. Gotta love history.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    Cindy... I think pushing an acorn with my nose would be a lot better than swallowing alive creature. Thanks for the share.

  • cindyvine profile image

    Cindy Vine 

    11 years ago from Cape Town

    I can remember my brother telling me how he had to push an acorn all the way up the hill with his nose when he had to take part in an intiation rite.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    Rochelle it just goes to show how much point-of-view and growing up we do through the course of time. Poor fish.

  • Rochelle Frank profile image

    Rochelle Frank 

    11 years ago from California Gold Country

    Oh my-- and who would have thought there was so much to write on this subject of cruel and unsual fish consumption.

    It makes me recall the time I went ot a Luau-themed party at the men's dorm (yeah, back then they separated us). The toilets in the restrooms had a live goldfish in each of the "bowls". No one wanted to flush the poor things -- or do anything else.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    ...And who wouldn't have wanted to watch Katie Price swallow goldfish on that TV show?

    Thanks BristolBoy for stopping by to read.

  • BristolBoy profile image


    11 years ago from Bristol

    This is a really interesting hub and educational (if that is the right word) too. I had never heard of this and maybe that is because it never reached these shores. Is a rather weird thing to do though and I'm surprised it has never been used as a bushtucker trial on the UK TV progam "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!".


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