HISTORY OF RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
Robert Leroy Ripley was born on December 25th in 1890 and grew up in Santa Rosa, CA. Robert Ripley played semi-professional baseball and sold artwork locally. He sold his cartoon "The Village Belles are Wringing" to national magazine LIFE before joining the staff of the San Francisco Bulletin in 1909, and later worked for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the winter of 1913, Ripley moved to New York and began working for The Globe.
Ripley's obsession with traveling and collecting oddities began when he took his first trip abroad to Europe. His second trip abroad in 1922 was to cover the Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium which led to a trip around the world. What he found and experienced on his exotic adventures was shared in his daily cartoon and a Believe It or Not! book was published the following year. Ripley visited over 201 countries over the next fifteen years. Robert Ripley's live radio broadcasts and movie shorts with Vitaphone Pictures followed, but his greatest success came when his first Odditorium opened in Chicago, Illinois in July 1933 during the Chicago World's Fair, where his wild and weird collections brought in nearly two million visitors.
In 1948, he created a television pilot that became the basis for one of the first weekly television series. Unfortunately, the following year he died of a heart attack at only 55. Despite his death, his legacy of oddball collections endured. The first permanent Ripley's Believe It or Not! opened in St. Augustine, Florida in 1950.
There are now 30 Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditoriums in operation around the world, from Niagara Falls to Kuala Lumpur. Ripley's Believe It or Not! Times Square opened in 2007. Each Odditorium houses its own unique collection of strange and fascinating artifacts. You have to come in to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Times Square, New York and SEE IT to BELIEVE IT!
RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! TIMELINE
1890 – Robert Leroy Ripley was born in Santa Rosa, CA on Christmas Day.
1893 – Birth of sister Ethel.
1904 – Birth of brother Doug.
1906 – Played semi-professional baseball in Santa Rosa and sold his first artwork locally.
1908 - Robert Ripley quit school before graduating in order to support his widowed mother; made first major sale of a cartoon, “The Village Belles are Wringing,” to LIFE Magazine.
1909 – Joined the staff of the San Francisco Bulletin, then moved over to the San Francisco Chronicle when the rumor came out that he was about to get fired from the Chronicle.
1912 - August 28, Ripley’s last drawing for the Chronicle, moved to New York that winter.
1913 - January 2, landed a job and drew first cartoon for the New York Globe; later in the spring he tried out for the New York Giants, made the team, but got injured in his first game, ending his dreams of a baseball career.
1914 – Took his first trip abroad to Belgium and France.
1918 – December 19, published “Champs and Chumps” cartoon in New York Globe, long regarded as the first Believe It or Not! cartoon; moved into the New York Athletic Club.
1919 – October 16, the first cartoon with the Believe It or Not! headline was published; married Beatrice Roberts on October 21 but separated three months later.
1920 - Took his second trip to Europe (his first solo excursion) to cover the Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.
1922 - December 3, embarked on his first around the world trip and returned on April 7, 1923; published his travel journal in installment form.
1923 – April 13, divorce from Beatrice was finalized; hired researcher/linguist Norbert Pearlroth as researcher; New York Globe newspaper closed down and Ripley moved to The New York Post.
1923-1929 – While drawing Believe It or Not! for The New York Post, the cartoon was syndicated by Associated Newspapers.
1925 - Took trip to South America, published his travel journal; published a handball guide.
1926 – Became the New York City handball champion representing the New York Athletic Club; published “Boxing Score,” a book on boxing.
1929 – July 9, he joined W. R. Hearst’s King Features Syndicate and the Believe It or Not! cartoon went from being published in 17 papers to world-wide distribution; first Believe It or Not! book was published.
1930 – Began his 14-year run on radio and his 19-year association with radio show promoter Doug Storer (future president of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!); Hearst funded Ripley’s wanderlust, starting a decade of world travel which culminated in Ripley visiting 201 countries by 1940; developed the concept of on-location live radio broadcasts throughout the decade, which became the Ripley radio show trademark with shows broadcast from underwater, in the sky, in caves, in snake pits and from foreign countries.
1931 – Created movie shorts for Vitaphone Pictures, later owned by RKO; published his second Believe It or Not! book.
1932 - Took lengthy trip to the Orient; the first, biggest and most successful national Believe It or Not! contest was held.
1933 – July, opened his first Odditorium in Chicago, Ill. at the World’s Fair. It operated for the length of the fair.
1934 - Broadcast the first radio program heard simultaneously around the world; purchased a 28- room home on an island in Long Island Sound, off the shore from Mamaroneck, NY and named it BION (Believe It or Not!) Island.
1935 - Opened Odditorium at the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, Calif. It operated for the length of the fair.
1936 - Opened Odditorium at The Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, Texas that operated for the length of the fair; in a national poll of newspaper readers Ripley was voted the most popular man in America, Roosevelt came in second.
1937 – Charles Schulz’s first ever-published drawing, a sketch of a cute little dog that would later become famous as “Snoopy,” appeared in the Believe It or Not! cartoon panel of Feb. 22; opened Odditorium at The Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland that operated for the length of the fair.
1939 – Opened Odditorium at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco that operated for the length of the fair; opened Odditorium in New York City in Times Square; received Honorary Degree from Dartmouth College.
1940 – Closed Times Square Odditorium when invited to move exhibits to the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows in Queens; purchased his second home, a Manhattan studio apartment with 13 rooms; received two more honorary degrees.
1940-45 – Ceased all foreign travel and concentrated on “Seeing America First,” a theme of his radio shows during that time; was busy with World War II charity work, including a Madison Square Gardens baseball game featuring Babe Ruth.
1946 - Purchased his Chinese junk, the Mon Lei.
1947 – Purchased his third home in Hi Mount, Florida.
1948 - Created a TV show pilot; took last foreign trip to the Orient and Hawaii; celebrated 30th anniversary of Believe It or Not! with an elaborate costume party at Toot Shor’s famous nightclub in NYC.
1949 - Starred in his first TV series; died on May 27 from heart failure after collapsing on the set of his weekly television show, live on air while interviewing a man about the military custom of playing Taps at funerals. It was Ripley’s 13th TV show.
1949 – Public auction of the Ripley estate was held; exhibits and artifacts were purchased by circus impresario John Arthur; long time friend and radio producer Doug Storer teamed up with Ripley’s brother Doug Ripley to take over the publication of the Ripley Believe It or Not! cartoon and books; Paul Frehm became the Ripley cartoon artist.
1950 – December 9 – John Arthur opened the first permanent Believe It or Not! museum in St. Augustine, which still operates in its original location, Warden’s Castle.
1950s - John Arthur opened a NYC Odditorium on Times Square in 1957 where it operated until 1966; several traveling trailer shows toured the country; rights to Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks acquired for Canada and a few years later for the U.S. and the rest of the world.
1957 - Doug Ripley sold all family interest in the company to Doug Storer who joined with John Arthur to bring both exhibits and publishing back together into one company.
1960 – Doug Storer retired after a 30 year association with Ripley.
1963 – Alec Rigby, a Canadian, became a partner in the company and built the third Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Still in operation, it is located in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
1966 – The company opened a Believe It or Not! museum in San Francisco, which is still in operation.
1968 – Believe It or Not! museum opened in Chicago. It closed in 1986; publication of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon took place in December.
1969 - Alec Rigby became sole owner of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and moved the company headquarters from New York City to Toronto, Canada.
1970-76 – Several Ripley museums opened, including Gatlinburg, Tenn. and Myrtle Beach, S.C.; the first overseas facility opened in Blackpool, England in 1972. It closed in 1976.
1972 – Santa Rosa honored Ripley with a city run memorial in “The Church of One Tree” which closed in 1998.
1973 – Robert Masterson, the future president of Ripley Entertainment was hired to work at the San Francisco museum.
1976 – Head Ripley researcher Norbert Pearlroth retired after 53 years of service.
1978 – Paul Frehm retired as Ripley cartoonist, replaced by his brother Walter Frehm.
1980-1985 – Ripley owner Alec Rigby turned the operation of the company over to John Withers; 1980-1984, successful national television show, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! starring Jack Palance was broadcast.
1985 – January, the company was purchased from Alec Rigby by Canadian entrepreneur Jim Pattison of Vancouver; October 1, the Las Vegas Believe It or Not! opened as the first franchised Ripley museum.
1988 – Ripley’s Believe It or Not opened in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia as a franchise and as the first Asian museum. It was later acquired by Ripley Entertainment Inc. It shut down temporarily in 2007 and is set to reopen in December 2009 in a brand new building.
1989 – John Withers retired as company president of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Bob Masterson took over that position; Walter Frehm retired as artist and was replaced by Don Wimmer in January 1990; Ripley’s left King Features Syndicate after 60 years and moved to United Media which still syndicates the cartoon to more than 200 newspapers worldwide.
1990-93 – Several franchised museums, domestic and foreign, including Orlando and Korea opened; new museum opened in Blackpool, England.
1991 - The first Ripley’s Moving Theater opened in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
1992 - Ripley’s Moving Theaters opened in Niagara Falls, Canada and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
1993 - Ripley Entertainment Inc. headquarters moved to Orlando, Fla. from Toronto; 75th Anniversary of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon was celebrated; 90-minute television documentary, “The Life and Times of Robert Ripley” was broadcast on TBS network.
1993-97 – Asian expansion took place with openings of museums in Thailand, Korea, Jakarta and Hong Kong.
1996 – Guinness World Records Museum franchise rights were acquired.
1997 - The first Ripley Aquarium opened in Myrtle Beach, S.C. By 2007, more than 10 million guests had visited the aquarium, which is still the state’s most attended paid attraction.
1999 - First Ripley Haunted Adventure in Gatlinburg, Tenn. opened as a year-round, multi-million dollar haunted house with live actors.
2000 – The first Guinness World Record Experience in Orlando opened. It closed in 2002; Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies opened in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; new television show starring Dean Cain premiered. Eighty-eight shows ran over four seasons with the last shown in 2003 before going into successful world-wide syndication.
2001- Ripley’s three Moving Theaters were converted to become 3-D presentations.
2002 – Museums in Genting Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia opened; second Haunted Adventure was opened in Myrtle Beach; Davey Crockett Mini-Golf, the company’s first venture into miniature golf opened in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
2003 – New museums opened in Key West, Fla. and New Orleans, La.; third Haunted Adventure opened in San Antonio.
2004 - In January, Ripley Entertainment Inc. acquired two of its franchised Believe It or Not! museums and two Louis Tussaud’s wax museums from Classic Attractions in San Antonio and Grand Prairie, Texas; St Augustine Sightseeing trains were acquired; Ripley Publishing company was launched with successful the New York Times best seller, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!; Ripley cartoonist Don Wimmer retired and was replaced by John Graziano. Ripley Entertainment Inc. moved its corporate office to a new location in Orlando, Fla., combining the art department, the exhibit warehouse and administrative offices under one roof for the first time in the company’s history.
2005 – Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf and Super Fun Zone opened in Sevierville, Tenn.; new Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks opened in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, replacing an earlier waxworks that had operated for nearly 40 years; Ripley’s Believe It or Not! opened in Kuwait as the company’s first venture in the Middle East.
2006 - Believe It or Not museums opened in Williamsburg, Va. and Panama City Beach, Fla.; April, Great Wolf Lodge Water Park Resort in Niagara Falls, Canada opened as Ripley’s first venture into the hospitality industry. The wholly-owned Ripley lodge is, to date, the single largest Ripley investment, encompassing 406 hotel suites and 103,000 square feet of indoor water park fun!
2007 - June, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum made a triumphant return to New York City’s Times Square after an absence of 35 years; Ripley’s first Mirror Maze attraction opened in Grand Prairie, Texas.
2008 – January 1, Bob Masterson named chairman of Ripley Entertainment Inc. and Jim Pattison Jr. takes over as president. Ripley’s entered India for the first time, opening a Believe It or Not!, a Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze and a Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, in Bangalore; May, a new Ripley’s Believe It or Not! odditorium replaced the 20-year old museum in San Antonio, Texas, across from the Alamo; August, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and a Marvelous Mirror Maze opened in London, England at One Piccadilly Circus; Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Mazes opened in Gatlinburg, Tenn. and Myrtle Beach, S.C.; August 1 – 3, World famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids performed for the first time outside of their home waters in Florida in 61 years. Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach hosted the finned beauties for nine shows.
2009 – January, Ripley’s Impossible LaseRace opened at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum in Grand Prairie, Texas; February, “Babies” exhibit opens at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, S.C. for the remainder of 2009; February, “Lethal Weapons” exhibit opens at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn. for the remainder of 2009; February 28, 23 sword swallowers celebrate International Sword Swallowers Awareness Day at 8 Believe It or Not! Museums – New York City, London, Gatlinburg, Hollywood, Ocean City, Atlantic City, Niagara Falls, Canada and Orlando. April 10, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum in Buena Park, Calif. closes after 20 years; May 1-3, Weeki Wachee Mermaids perform 9 shows at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Ripley opens new LaseRace at New York City’s Believe It or Not! odditorium; Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks opens in Pattaya, Thailand; Ripley Radio – An On-Demand Oddcast, premieres in September; Ripley’s Believe It or Not! opens in Veracruz, Mexico in December.
2010 – In January, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! opens in Surfers Paradise, South Queensland, Australia; Lethal Weapons exhibit opens in Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach for remainder of 2010. Ripley Entertainment Inc. purchases two of its successful franchises: Orlando, Fla., and Branson, Mo. in January; Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse opens at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn. in March; Ripley Entertainment Inc. purchases its two Copenhagen franchises, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the Guinness World Records Museum, along with two stand alone attractions – The Mystic Exploratorie and the Hans Christian Andersen’s Wonderful World in April. Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze & Candy Factory and Ripley’s LaseRace opens in Ocean City, Md., on May 28. In early June, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze & Candy Store opens in El Paso, marking Ripley Entertainment Inc.’s first foray into that city. Following a six-month, $5 million renovation, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in San Francisco, Calif., opens on June 30, with its big grand re-opening party being held on July 26. In addition to the major renovation that resulted in nearly 80% of the exhibits being replaced, the company opens a Marvelous Mirror Maze & Candy and Toy Factory as part of the attraction. The Weeki Wachee Mermaids performs 12 shows at each of the Ripley Aquariums. They returned to Myrtle Beach for the third year, July 23-25; and to Gatlinburg for the second season, August 6-8. The new franchised Ripley’s Believe It or Not! opens on Jeju Island, South Korea on Christmas Eve Day, December 24. In its first outing as a trade show exhibitor since 1999, Ripley Entertainment wins the “Image Award” for best booth at the Nov. 16-19 Attractions Expo of the International Assn. of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) held in Orlando. At IAAPA, Ripley unveils new Believe It or Not! franchise opportunity, a new attractions concept for Guinness World Records, and a new wax figure of Erik Sprague, the Lizardman. In December, Ripley’s Aquarium of The Smokies celebrates its 10th anniversary and Ripley Entertainment celebrates its 40th, in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The new franchised Ripley’s Believe It or Not! opens on Jeju Island, South Korea on Christmas Eve Day, December 24.
2011 - Following a successful three-year world tour, the two Ripley’s Fertility Statues are placed on permanent disply at the Orlando Believe It or Not! Odditorium. It was announced in February that Ripley Entertainment Inc. and Simon & Schuster, Inc. reached a sales and distribution agreement for Ripley’s large annual book to take effect in April. On February 26, more than 30 sword swallowers “drop” swords at 10 Believe It or Not! locations to celebrate the fifth annual Ripley’s sponsored World Sword Swallower’s Day. iSword, Ripley’s first-ever app, is released for the iPad and the iPhone in July. The oldest boxer to ever win a world championship, Bernard Hopkins spends two days in the Ripley art department having a wax figure created in July. The statue is presented at pre-fight activities in October prior to Hopkins defense of his title. The fight, officially named “Believe It or Not!: Bernard Hopkins Vs. Chad Dawson,” brings huge attention to the Ripley brand. Ripley’s acquires 97 pieces of the world’s largest collection of micro-sculptures by famed British artist Willard Wigan. On July 8, Ripley Entertainment purchases its Key West Believe It or Not! Odditorium. On August, 17, plans to build Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada are officially announced at at press conference in Toronto. The $130 million family attraction will be built at the base of the CN Tower and is set to open in Summer 2013. On September 13, the eighth book in its new annual series, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Strikingly True,” is released. A press conference at Ripley’s art department on September 14, features Maria Jose Christerna, known as the Mexican Vampire Woman, as she prepares to have a wax figure created of herself. Oct. 10, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! announces licensing agreement with American Gaming Systems to develop casino games. “Ripley’s Scream in the Dark” darkride opens at the Believe It or Not! in Pattaya, Thailand on October 29. All North American Believe It or Not! Odditoriums promote a nationwide “Gimme Five Food Drive” for Nov. 6-10. All who donate five non-perishable food items get into Odditoriums or $5. Seven tons of food is collected.
2012 - Ripley’s Believe It or Not! presents The Lucky Daredevil Thrill Show at The Ohio State University on January 12. “Perfect Predators: SHARKS,” opens at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Hollywood re-opens after major renovation on January 10. Boxer Bernard Hopkins is presented a personal wax figure for his trophy room during his birthday party in Philadelphia on January 17.