#TBT From The NFPA Archives: Cockroach Racing in the 1800's

Blog Post created by jrodowicz Employee on Aug 8, 2019

an illustration of what a participant in cockroach racing might have looked like

During the summer of 1925, Mr. S.D. McComb, chairman of the NFPA Marine Committee shared a story that he had heard from a colleague “across the pond” regarding the possible hazards of a pastime once common aboard ships at sea in the mid-to-late 1800’s.


From The NFPA Quarterly v.19, no.1, 1925:

Referring to an article in a recent number of the Nautical Magazine about fires on board ship. The following, although not recent information, may interest you. It was told me by a man-of-war’s man about fifty years ago. My informant probably started his career at sea in the early sixties, and most likely in wooden ships. Here are his own words, as near as I can remember: “Us boys used to catch cockroaches, get some small pieces of candle, light them, tilt them a bit to let the grease run, then put them on the cockroaches’ backs, and have races.” He then naively added: “You must not get catched at it though.” I presume the bearers of the light would make for some secluded spot in the ship.

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.


The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.