What Was America’s Strangest College Fad?

After bragging that he had once eaten a live fish, fellow Harvard students called Lothrop Withington Jr.’s bluff, and bet him $10 USD that he couldn’t swallow a live goldfish. The gullible freshman reportedly practiced, gulping down baby goldfish and tadpoles in advance of the big event. Someone even convinced a Boston reporter to attend, and on 3 March 1939, Withington popped a 3-inch (7.6-cm) long goldfish into his mouth, chewed a couple of times, and swallowed -- marking the beginning of a crazy college fad that was all the rage throughout 1939.

Fish out of water:

  • Competitions sprang up all over the country. At the University of Pennsylvania, a student downed 35 goldfish, only to be eclipsed by a guy at MIT who ate 42.

  • The big winner -- or loser, depending on your perspective -- may have been Clark University’s Joseph Deliberato, who reportedly swallowed 89 goldfish in one sitting.

  • Eventually, universities and municipalities put a stop to the practice, passing ordinances and updating school bylaws to ban the popular stunt.

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More Info: National Museum of American History

Discuss this Article

Post 3

"The big winner," yes, but why "-- or loser?"

Post 2

I thought flagpole-sitting would be mentioned.

Post 1

An even stranger fad has now popped up at various colleges espousing freedom of speech, all the while shutting it down with protests against freedom of speech.

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