Born LeRoy Robert Ripley in Santa Rosa, California, the small-town boy who would eventually be called the Modern-Day Marco Polo cultivated a curiosity for the weird and wonderful from a young age. Enchanted by California’s Chinese communities, and honing his skill at illustrations, Ripley made the move to the big city drawing sports cartoons for the New York Globe.
Though a talented sports reporter, Ripley found himself without a new sports story one winter day. Instead, he compiled the most interesting and unbelievable sports feats he had come across in all his years. On December 19, 1918, the first Believe It or Not! cartoon—and the beginnings of Ripley’s entertainments empire—were born.
In just a few short years, Ripley’s cartoon and “Believe It or Not!” catchphrase took the world by storm. Not satisfied with the quaint curiosities he found at home, he set out abroad writing a travel journal of his around-the-world expedition in 1922.
By 1929, people weren’t satisfied with just a cartoon in their daily newspaper, so Ripley published his first book. Simply titled Believe It or Not!, this tradition lives on to this day—with titles published every year!
The 1930s proved to be Ripley’s most exciting years yet. He began a long and illustrious radio career, broadcasting believe-it-or-nots straight into people’s homes. He traveled the world, telling folks about his weird and interesting discoveries from remote islands and then-unknown cities. In 1933, he joined in at the World’s Fair, opening the very first Odditorium—a place where people could marvel at the artifacts Ripley had collected, as well as people with amazing and unbelievable talents.
Voted the most popular man in America, Ripley made successful forays into television and film while continuing to show people how unbelievable the world they all lived in was.
Sadly, Robert Ripley died on May 27, 1949, after suffering a heart attack while on the set of his television show. His impact is still felt throughout the world today. Just one year after his death, the first permanent Odditorium was opened in St. Augustine, Florida. Today, over 100 attractions are spread across the world for families to explore the odd.
In 1980, Jack Palance once again brought the world of Believe It or Not! into peoples homes with a television show, and so did Dean Cain in 2000. Now, 100 years later, Ripley’s cartoon has been published daily and is the longest-running cartoon in history. With attractions, books, television shows, and the strange stories on Ripleys.com, Robert Ripley’s affection for things beyond belief remain strong today and into the future!