Believe It or Not! Ripley’s First Cartoon Celebrates its 90th Anniversary on December 19, 2008

How a single cartoon evolved into a global empire based on the  weird, wacky and bizarre.

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 10, 2008) - Ninety years ago this month, 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 adventure 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 Dec. 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. Believe it!

Ripley’s Expanding Empire

Click for high-res

Click for high-res

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 county’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 also 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 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 also marks the creation of one of the oldest and most iconic brands in the world. Ripley’s legacy has evolved into Ripley Entertainment Inc., 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.

Today the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon is drawn by John Graziano of Tampa, Fla., 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 and is now in full color, seven days a week, a first for the panel. It can also be delivered to readers daily via email through www.comics.com – for free!

Through the years, Ripley Entertainment has created a publishing dynasty, selling more than a million books annually and regularly having those books show up on best selling lists around the world. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Prepared to be Shocked, this year’s release, made it to the Top 10 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Contact Information

To schedule an interview with a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! historian or with current cartoonist John Graziano, please contact:

Tim O’Brien
VP Communications
Ripley Entertainment Inc.
Obrien@ripleys.com
Office – 615-646-7465
Cell – 615-496-5949

Downloadable Materials:

  • Full press release (Word)
  • Timeline of Ripley Entertainment (Word)
  • Short biography of Robert Ripley (Word)
  • Original first Believe it or Not cartoon (JPG)

About Ripley Entertainment Inc.

Ripley Entertainment Inc. (www.ripleys.com), keepers of the venerable Ripley’s Believe It or Not! brand, is a global leader in location-based entertainment. More than 13 million guests visit its 73 attractions operating in 12 countries annually. The Orlando-based company also has divisions that oversee publishing, licensing and broadcast operations.  Ripley Entertainment is a Jim Pattison Company, the third-largest privately held company in Canada.

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