Goldfish Swallowing… A Harvard-Inspired Trend

1930's Fad: Goldfish Swallowing

Harvard is known for its promising medical technologies, distuinguished law school, and successful students who are just waiting to leave their mark on the world.  Harvard student Mark Zuckerburg built his reputation as the founder of the booming social network Facebook.  But Zuckerburg isn’t the first Harvard student to launch a national trend.  In 1938, Lothrop Withington Jr. stumbled upon the biggest college trend on his time: goldfish swallowing.

In 1938, Lothrop Withington Jr., a then Harvard freshman, was encouraged by his “campaign managers” to swallow a live goldfish as a publicity stunt in his bid for class president. Withington, son of a Boston lawyer and Harvard’s 1919 football captain, had boasted that he had once eaten a live goldfish in front of a crowd at Holworthy Hall. A fellow student offered to pay Lothrop $10 to do the stunt again. Lothrop agreed and a date for the stunt was set.


On March 3, 1939, the dining hall of the Freshmen Union was crowded with spectators waiting to see this unusual sight. People started taking pictures while Lothrop plucked a wiggling three-inch fish from its bowl, leaned backwards, and lowered the fish into his mouth. He chewed the fish a few times and then swallowed hard. Afterwards, he took a toothbrush out of his pocket to clean his teeth and remarked “the scales caught a bit on my throat as it went down.”

Mortal Journey


News of Lothrop’s stunt spread to other colleges and soon students were plotting to outdo one another.  Just three weeks later, Franklin and Marshall College student Frank Hope Jr. topped Lothrop’s stunt by swallowing three goldfish.  The competitions escalated until a Clark University’s student, Joseph Deliberato swallowed 89 goldfish in one sitting.

Harvard Inspired Trend: Goldfish Swallowing

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.

St. James, Hub Pages

By the 1970′s the fad had ended, but not before one man swallowed 300+ goldfish in one sitting.  I think we can all say, this is one trend that is not missed.