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 Eatting 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.