Goldfish swallowing

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Goldfish swallowing was an American school trend popularized in the late 1930s[1], where a live goldfish was swallowed. Although it is not clear how the fad emerged, various people have made claims. A 1963 letter to the New York Times claimed that it was started by a man named Lothrop Withington Jr., who was a freshman at Harvard University and supposedly did so as part of a bid to become class president. Although once widely practiced, the stunt is rare today.

Another possibility in the origins of goldfish swallowing comes from Chicago bartenders, most notably Matt Schulien (who performed magic while tending bar at his family's restaurant), who would cut up carrots to look like goldfish tails. When performing the stunt, bartenders would reach into a bowl of goldfish kept behind the bar while palming the carrot piece, placing that in between their pursed lips, using their tongues to lever it up and down to mimic the actions of a live fish, finally swallowing the carrot piece. The trick dates back to the 1920s, and some people believe that the fad could have been started by college students fooled by the trick.[citation needed]

According to the National Museum of American History, goldfish swallowing was such a craze at universities during the early-20th century that it made appearances in several news publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post.[2]


The stunt became so popular that the Massachusetts state legislature decided to make a bill to “preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption.”[citation needed]


  1. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help); External link in |website= (help);
  2. ^ "1939: the year of goldfish swallowing". Smithsonian. Retrieved 28 March 2018. 

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