Robert Leroy Ripley, artist, author, and radio broadcaster, was born on Christmas Day, 1893, in Santa Rosa, California. A talented, self-taught artist, Ripley sold his first drawing to Life magazine when he was only 14! Ripley was also a natural athlete who longed for a career in baseball, but his dreams of pitching in the Big Leagues were shattered when he broke his arm while playing his first professional game. After the accident, Ripley returned to his earlier goal of becoming a professional artist. He landed a job as a cartoonist covering sports for the San Francisco Chronicle, but, soon after, he left California and headed for New York City.

In 1918, while working as a sports cartoonist for the New York Globe, Ripley created his first collection of odd facts and feats. The cartoons, based on unusual athletic achievements, were submitted under the title "Champs and Chumps." His editor, however, wanted a title that would describe the incredible nature of the sporting feats. After much deliberation, it was changed to Believe it or Not® -- the cartoon was an instant success.

Travel was Robert Ripley's lifelong obsession. During his career, he visited 198 countries, traveling a distance equal to 18 complete trips around the world! In 1920, he made his first trek across Europe. Two years later, he visited Central and South America and wrote about what he saw in a syndicated feature column called "Rambles Around South America."

He was drawn to the Asia in 1925, crossing through Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Ripley felt most at home in China. He found Chinese culture to be fascinating, and adopted certain Chinese customs. When he entertained, he often greeted his guests in traditional Asian costume. He presided over elaborate feasts in which he described the dishes of each course in precise detail, and at one point he even signed his cartoons "Rip Li!"

Ripley lived up to his reputation as a man who thrived on all things strange, and his personality was in many ways as unusual as the stories and objects he collected! His houses and apartment were filled with artifacts he brought back from his travels. There were Chinese wallhangings, totem poles from Alaska, a collection of beer steins from Germany, and giant bronze guardian statues from the Orient. A colleague once said that "the most curious object in the collection is probably Mr. Ripley himself." He drew his cartoon every day between 7 am and 11 am -- always drawing it upside-down! He was a man who dressed in bright colors and patterns, wore bat-wing ties and two-toned spat shoes. He collected cars, but never learned to drive. Even though he often used complicated recording equipment for his broadcasts, associates remarked that he was afraid to use a telephone for fear he would be electrocuted! A non-swimmer, he owned an odd assortment of boats including dug-out canoes and even an authentic Chinese sailing junk moored at B.I.O.N. Island, his estate in Mamaroneck, New York.

The 1930s and 40s were the Golden Age of Ripley. The phrase "Believe It or Not" was a part of everyday speech. In small towns across the United States, people filled halls and vaudeville theaters to hear his lectures and see his films. Later, he would introduce his wonders to the world via television. The shy young man from a small town in California was now a celebrated public figure. Self-educated, he received honorary titles and degrees, and was the first cartoonist to become a millionaire!