Robert L. Ripley (1893 – 1949)
(Believe It or Not!)

This is about a famous man who was not a smoker; he rarely ate lunch; he never gambled or played cards; did not use a telephone and who owned several cars but never learned to drive. He received no formal education and yet during the Great Depression was earning an annual salary of $500,000. By the age of 36 he had written four books; the last one being on the “Best Sellers” list for almost a year. At the height of his career he was receiving an average of a million letters a year and during one 14 day period over 2,500,000 letters. His fame was such that letters with no address – just a tear in the envelope would be delivered directly to “Rip”; better know as Robert L. Ripley.
Ripley was born on Christmas Day in 1893 and named LeRoy. His father died when LeRoy was 12. To supplement the family income he worked at the local marble works, polishing headstones. His two greatest interests were drawing and sports. While still in his teens Ripley got a job as an illustrator in the Sports department of the San Francisco
Bulletin. While still in his early 20s, Ripley became one of the best sports illustrators in the country and moved to New York City.
On December 18, 1918, just a week before his 25th birthday, Ripley was sitting at his desk at the old N.Y. Globe. Before him was the blank drawing board he was being paid to fill. As there was a lack of sports news that day, he searched for an inspiration. “Why not sketch unusual achievements in athletics,” he thought. He quickly drew nine bizarre items with the caption “Champs and Chumps.” The Sports Editor liked the idea but changed the caption to “Believe it or Not!” Readers demanded more cartoons of this kind. Soon Believe it or Not! By Ripley was appearing in every major newspaper across the nation and for the next 30 years Ripley never failed to produce one cartoon a day.

Three of the original 9 cartoons
appearing on Dec. 19, 1918
in the NeThw York Globe.

Nation-wide surveys of newspaper readers back in the 1930s showed Ripley’s illustrated feature had the greatest interest of men, women, and especially school children my age. As his readership grew Ripley began traveling abroad to find tidbits for his cartoons. Ripley visited 201 countries throughout his lifetime, traveling a distance equal to 18 complete trips around the world. Many dubbed him the modern Marco Polo. In 1920, he made his first trek across Europe. Two years later, he visited Central and South America. He was drawn to Asia in 1925, crossing through Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Ripley felt most at home in China where he found the culture to be fascinating and soon adopted the ways the Chinese eat and dress.
When television was only in its infancy, Ripley televised Believe It or Not! He only completed thirteen episodes before becoming incapacitated by severe health problems. He reportedly passed out during the filming of his final show. His health worsened, and on May 27, 1949 at age 55, Robert L. Ripley succumbed to a heart attack.
He is buried in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA, beside
The Church of the One Tree. This unique church appeared in one of Ripley’s illustrations and was reported to be built from the wood of a single 300 foot tall redwood tree. Ripley's ideas and legacy lives on in Ripley Entertainment. This company now operates many museums throughout the world; each designed to contain and exhibit Ripley's so-called "oddities".
Beginning in 1943, Wayne Harbour of Bedford, Iowa refused to accept all of the Oddities in
Believe it or Not! For the next 26 years he tried to prove Ripley wrong. Mr. Harbour wrote 22,708 letters and received 10,363 replies from every corner of the globe. 4,139 letters were undelivered while 8,206 were unanswered. Believe it or not, not a single reply contradicted Ripley’s claims.