Champs and Chumps
On December 19, 1918—ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO TODAY—the first “Believe It or Not!” cartoon was published.
On a slow news day, Robert Ripley pondered how to fill the space assigned to him as an illustrator for the New York Globe. He decided to return to an old concept that he’d experimented with back in the winter of 1916. Little did he know, the choice he was about to make would be the start of an amazing adventure that lives on today.
He created a panel featuring nine unbelievable athletic feats culled from Ripley’s personal collection of daring sports and extreme activities, and called it “Champs and Chumps.” The cartoon soon expanded beyond the sports world and was renamed “Believe It or Not!” The second cartoon with similar content didn’t appear until 10 months later—the first with the exact title “Believe It or Not!”
The eventual series launched a household saying, but it has made an impact beyond a simple catchphrase—”Believe It or Not!” changed history.
Changing American History
On November 3, 1929, Ripley made a shameless statement in his first Sunday panel for William Randolph Hearst—“America Has No National Anthem.”
The public went wild as Ripley asserted that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was nothing more than an unofficial hymn sung to an old English drinking song. It took 16 months for Congress to pass a one sentence bill and for President Herbert Hoover to sign into law “The Star-Spangled Banner” as America’s anthem—all thanks to Ripley.
…And Postal Protocol
In 1929, Robert Ripley received more mail than any single person in U.S. history—on average 3,000 letters a day for over 20 years! The deluge can be attributed to fan mail, odd submissions and requests for proof, verifying the unbelievable stories depicted in his ‘Believe It or Not!’ cartoons.
This was some of the strangest mail to pass through the postal system at the time, as the envelopes were as strange as Ripley’s stories! One correspondent taped Ripley’s photograph to an envelope, pasted on a two-cent stamp, and mailed it with no address. Others cleverly coded their parcels for postal workers to decipher!
Overwhelming the U.S. Postal Service, Postmaster General Walter Brown announced that USPS would no longer decode ciphers in 1930. Despite the announcement, fans continued to send uniquely-addressed letters.
Happy Hundo, Believe It or Not!
Ripley’s cartoons were published in more than 360 newspapers around the world, translated into 17 languages, with a daily readership of 80 million people. Today, “Believe It or Not!” is still in print and holds the title of the World’s Longest Running Syndicated Cartoon.
If you listen, you are hard pressed to escape the phrase “Believe It or Not!” on a daily basis—now you know where it all began!