The foundation of our museum exhibit collection was set by Robert L. Ripley (1890–1949), a cartoonist, explorer, reporter, adventurer, and collector, who traveled to 201 countries in 35 years seeking the odd, the unusual, and the unexplained.


“I have traveled in 201 countries and the strangest thing I saw was man”
Robert L. Ripley


He was nicknamed “The Modern Marco Polo”, and in his endless search for unbelievable stories to draw in his immensely popular newspaper cartoon feature, he acquired hundreds of exotic artifacts from around the world.

Robert Ripley the World Traveler

The Birth of the Believe It or Not! ODDITORIUMS

In time, Robert Ripley opened seven different “Odditoriums”, typically associated with World Fairs, to house his huge collection.

1933 Chicago World's Fair

In 1933 over 2 million people visited Ripley’s first “Odditorium” at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Ahead of his time

Ripley was the FIRST to broadcast:

  • from underground
  • from the sky (from a falling parachute)
  • from underwater
  • from mid-ocean to the entire USA
  • from Australia to the USA
  • from South America to the USA
  • from from London, England to every country in the world simultaneously using a team of translators!


Today, the syndicated daily cartoon is seen in many countries around the world, in multiple languages.

Did you know?

Robert Ripley received an average of 3,000 letters a day for over 20 years. That’s over a million letters a year!

millions of letters


Ripley’s first Believe It or Not! books, collections of his newspaper cartoon drawings, appeared in 1929 and 1931 at a time when he was receiving millions of pieces of mail each year.

Radio & Television Pioneer

The success of the first book led to a live radio show.

Starting in1930 and running continuously until 1944, Ripley hosted a wildly successful weekly radio show.

The show continued briefly in 1947–48, but by that time he was already experimenting with the new medium of television.

Ripley NBC microphone

Vitaphone movie star
By the mid–1930s Ripley was sponsoring national Believe It or Not! contests giving away marvelous prizes and lots of cash.

The Original Super-Star

In addition to being a cartoonist, an author and a radio personality, Ripley was also a movie star, making 24 “shorts” (12-15 minute documentaries) for the Vitaphone Film Company in 1931–32.

The original super star

In the spring of 1949 Robert Ripley launched a weekly television show

Based loosely on his successful radio show format, Ripley displayed some of his artifacts, drew cartoons on camera, and re-enacted fantastic unbelievable stories, followed by interviews with the actual “stars” of the stories.

The Death of an Icon

Ripley’s television show was the first “reality” show and was growing quickly in popularity until on show #13 on May 27, 1949, Ripley had a heart attack while on stage discussing the military funeral hymn “Taps”.

Robert Ripley Obituary

Died at 59 on May 27, 1949

The Ripley Collection

The majority of his artifacts were sold at a four day long public auction, and the lion’s share was bought up by New York City entrepreneur John Arthur.

The First Odditorium

In December 1950 Mr. Arthur opened the first permanent Ripley’s Believe It or Not!® Odditorium in St. Augustine, FL.

John Arthur

John Arthur

A remarkable life

A Truly Remarkable Life

Robert Ripley led an incredible life of adventure and excitement and forever will be remembered for coining one of the most recognized and used phrases in the English language:

Believe It or Not!

Ripley’s Legacy

Today there are 28 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums in ten countries, dozens of Ripley books, a huge internet web presence, and hundreds of television videos in the company’s archive vaults.


  • Ready for more? The Ripley collection today includes everything from micro-miniature sculptures, to giant 22-foot tall car part robots. Dive right in ›