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Orlando, U.S.A. — Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is celebrating a major milestone this month – the December 19 anniversary of Robert Ripley’s first cartoon, which was the start of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! brand.
Ninety-four years ago, a young Robert Ripley pondered how to fill the space assigned to him as an illustrator for the New York Globe. Little did he know, the choice he was about to make would be the start of an amazing legacy that lives on today.
He turned to a file marked “Dubious Athletic Achievements,” a collection of sports oddities he had saved. He created a panel made up of nine of his favorite sports feats, and called it “Champs and Chumps.”
It was published on December 19, 1918 and was an instant hit. The cartoon soon expanded beyond the sports world and was renamed “Believe It or Not!”
Ripley’s creation soon had fans worldwide. He partnered with William Randolph Hearst in 1929 to syndicate the strip globally and by the mid 1930s it was published in more than 350 newspapers with a daily readership of 80 million.
Today, it is the longest continuously published cartoon panel on the planet. John Graziano of Tampa, Florida is only the fifth artist, including Ripley himself, to draw the cartoon. It is syndicated by United Media to more than 200 newspapers throughout the world in full color, seven days a week. It can also be delivered to readers daily via email through www.comics.com– for free.
Ripley’s Expanding Empire
Robert Ripley’s cartoon set the stage for an amazing odyssey. The man who invented Believe It or Not! is himself famous for his amazing accomplishments.
In one 1929 cartoon he stated “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem,” which led to legislation that made the Star Spangled Banner the country’s official anthem. He created a radio version of Believe It or Not! that was broadcast for 14 years. He spoke to his loyal listeners from exotic locations around the world, including caves, snake pits and the middle of the ocean.
In a 1936 nationwide poll of newspaper readers, Ripley was voted the most popular American, beating out President Roosevelt.
Ripley regularly appeared in movie shorts for Vitaphone Pictures in the 1930s and was active on the lecture circuit. He opened his first museum, an Odditorium at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, which was followed by several more appearances at world expositions across the country.
In 1948 Ripley became a pioneer in television, creating the “Believe It or Not!” series at a time when few households owned a TV set.
Sadly, Ripley’s health failed him and he died of a heart attack in 1949 at the age of 58. He collapsed on the set of his weekly television show, live on air, while interviewing a man about the military custom of playing Taps at funerals. He was buried in his hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif., in of all places – the Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery.
Ripley’s Legacy Today
The anniversary of the cartoon marks the creation of one of the oldest and most iconic brands in the world. Ripley’s legacy has evolved into Ripley Entertainment, a global family entertainment leader. The company’s efforts include museums, aquariums, wax museums, miniature golf courses, theaters and books – all staying true to Robert Ripley’s fascination with the odd, bizarre, amazing and most of all – fun.