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July 18, 2022

In 1939, Swallowing Live Goldfish Became a Wildly Popular Fad Among College Students

In 1939, a freshman named Lothrop Withington, Jr., reportedly bragged to his friends that he had once eaten a live fish. So, they bet him 10 bucks he couldn’t do it again. Like most young college students would, he took the challenge.

The moment of truth came on March 3, within the hallowed halls of Harvard. Standing in front of a crowd of grinning classmates and at least one Boston reporter, Withington dropped an ill-fated 3-inch goldfish into his mouth, gave a couple chews and swallowed. “The scales,” he later remarked, “caught a bit on my throat as it went down.”

Soon the word spread to other colleges. Other students began to take up the challenge, swallowing more and more goldfish each time to top the last record. By the time students were downing dozens of live, wriggling goldfish to uphold their school’s honor, the Massachusetts legislature stepped in and passed a law to “preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption.” The U.S. Public Health Service began to issue warnings that the goldfish could pass tapeworms and disease to swallowers. Within a few months of its start, the fad died out.

Goldfish swallowing has been revived from time to time among college students and other young people anxious to prove their daring. One student during the 1970s claimed to have swallowed three hundred of the little fish.


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