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January 24, 2021

22 Amazing Vintage Photographs That Prove Eating Contests Have Been Popular in the Early 20th Century

Competitive eating is one of those activities that you either love or hate. The idea that people could compete to see who can eat the most is a concept that reeks of gluttony to the point of it being nauseating. Despite that, it’s a sport that's slowly gaining popularity and visibility in mainstream culture.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution changed a lot about the way that people lived, adding inventions like refrigeration, canning, and better food storage into the mix of things. With better food storage and better farming methods, food became a lot more plentiful. Which meant that eating contests were now more doable than ever before.

Since electricity was still rather rare, many local fairs throughout the U.S began to feature eating contests as a way to entertain people. Many of these contests focused on local crops such as corn, watermelon, or apples; eventually, pies began to reign supreme as the competitive eating food of choice.

Competitive eating’s link with all-American fun reached its height around the turn of the century. As a result, many people began to see it as a competitive sport with a hint of patriotism. These are the amazing, and sometimes nauseating photos that prove eating contests have been popular in the early 20th century.

A watermelon-eating contest in Cincinnatti, Ohio, 1915.

Juniors compete against each other on an Independence Day pie eating contest, July 4, 1919.

Lois and Ruth Waddell devour a combined total of 204 oysters in 1920. The girls were crowned winners of the Great Oyster Eating Contest after they had finished.

Mrs. Vincent Cosamano at a pie eating contest contest held at the Tidal Basin, Washington D.C, 1921. Pie eating contests had always been a traditional event at county festivals years since the turn of the turn of the twentieth century. In fact during World War I, American regiments pitted their soldiers against one another as a way to boost morale.

Four youngsters vie for first place during a doughnut eating contest held by the Salvation Army in May, 1922.

Men tuck into a row of pies during a contest on a Navy Ship in 1922.

Boys dunk their mouths into pies at Jefferson school, Washington D.C, 1923.

A pie-eating contest at the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1934.

A rice eating contest at the National Rice Festival, Crowley, Louisiana, 1938.

Joseph Rubolotta, 12, is crowned world champion doughnut dunker at a competition in New York, 1939.

A pie eating contest, at the 4-H Club fair, Cimarron, Kansas, 1939.

Richard Baranski, 6, savors his victory after eating a 10-inch cranberry pie in 15 seconds, 1948.

A six-year-old boy is pictured with food all over his face, as he recovers after eating a 10 inch cranberry pie in just fifteen seconds, 1948.

In 1948, a clam eating contest was held at Ivar’s restaurant on the Seattle waterfront. The winner was Richard Watson, a local cabdriver, who gulped down 110 clams in 10 minutes and became the first ever World Champion Clam Eater

Broadway show girls compete in a hands-free spaghetti-eating contest, 1948. From the late 1910s to 1920s, eating contests became a fun way to draw a crowd, and establishments, from restaurants to movie theaters offered prizes to draw contestants and bring in business.

A watermelon-eating contest in Rome, Italy, 1950.

Boys practice for a pie-eating contest at the Los Angeles Food Show, 1950.

London students attempt to eat potatoes hung on a line, 1952.

A sausage-eating contest in Munich, Germany, 1952. The winner (second from left) wolfed down 15 sausages in one minute and 45 seconds.

Denver Patrolman Joe Hale poses with the winners of a pie-eating contest, 1954.

Marion Todd, left, and Marge Kraus during National Hot Dog Month, posing with a plate of 60 hot dogs, which at the time represented what the average American ate in a year in Chicago, 1957. Their hats were accented with a band of hot dogs smothered with mustard.

Spectators look on as Joe Steele takes part in a food-eating competition, 1958.


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