Ripley Entertainment, Inc.
Ripley Entertainment, Inc.
Ripley Entertainment, Inc.
Wholly-Owned Subsidiary of the Jim Pattison Group
Incorporated: 1949 as Ripley's Believe It or Not
Sales: $150 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 713110 Amusement and Theme Parks; 712130 Zoos and Botanical Gardens; 713990 All Other Amusement and Recreation Industries
Ripley Entertainment, Inc., manages a chain of more than 40 entertainment attractions located at tourist destinations in North America, Asia, and Europe. They include about 25 Ripley's "Believe It or Not" museums, which display unusual items like shrunken heads and elaborate models made from matchsticks; three Ripley's Haunted Adventures, which use live actors and props to scare visitors; three Ripley's aquariums; four Louis Tussaud's Wax Museums; five Guinness World of Records museums; three miniature golf courses; and a sightseeing tour bus firm. The company owns about one-third of the attractions, with the rest held by franchisees. Ripley Entertainment also produces a daily comic strip that appears in 200 newspapers around the world, books, television programs, computer games, and other entertainment products based on the Ripley's "Believe It or Not" comic strip that was created by Robert Ripley in 1918. The firm has been owned since 1985 by Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison.
The founder and namesake of Ripley Entertainment, Leroy Ripley, was born in Santa Rosa, California, in December of 1890 (though many sources cite 1893). Ripley began working from a young age, first for a tombstone engraver, then as a semi-professional baseball player and advertising artist. In 1908, he sold a cartoon to a national magazine. The following year he began to draw sports cartoons for the San Francisco Bulletin and later the Chronicle. In 1912, Ripley moved to New York, where he began drawing sports cartoons for the Globe the following January. At his editor's urging, he signed them with the more "athletic" first name of Robert, which he soon adopted as his own.
On December 19, 1918, Ripley published a cartoon he called "Champs and Chumps," which featured interesting and obscure sports facts about such things as a backwards race and a broad jump on ice. Though he had composed it merely to fill up space on a slow news day, it got a favorable response, and the paper began running it weekly. Its scope soon broadened to include unusual non-sports items, and on October 16, 1919, the cartoon's name was changed to "Believe It or Not."
In 1923, the Globe folded and Ripley began working for the New York Evening News, where he hired Norbert Pearlroth to help perform research for the "Believe It or Not" strip, which was now running daily. Pearlroth, who was fluent in 14 languages, began using the vast resources of the New York Public Library to uncover a steady stream of material for the comic.
During the 1920s, Ripley published books on handball, travel, and boxing with minimal success, but in 1929 his first compilation of "Believe It Or Not" cartoons reached the bestseller lists. Its sales were helped by the recent controversy over an item he had run which stated that Charles Lindbergh was not the first person to cross the Atlantic non-stop by air, but the 67th. Ripley received more than 150,000 angry letters and telegrams protesting his "lie," but the scrupulously accurate cartoonist had his facts correct: a team of two Britons had accomplished the feat by plane in 1919, followed by two dirigibles that had each carried more than 30. Lindbergh, in 1927, had merely been the first to do so alone.
The success of Ripley's book led to an offer of $100,000 per year from William Randolph Hearst's King Features Syndicate, which soon gave his cartoon a world-wide audience. At its peak, it would reach as many as 80 million readers a day via publication in 300 newspapers in 33 countries.
The 1930s were a heady time for Ripley, who began a long-running weekly radio show for NBC and other networks, shot a series of nearly two dozen short subject films for Vitaphone, and traveled the world in search of ever more exotic discoveries. He became a household name, and the first cartoonist to earn a million dollars from his work.
Odditorium Debuts in 1933
In 1933, Ripley opened what he called an "Odditorium" at the Chicago World's Fair that featured unusual items he had collected along with performances by sideshow acts like contortionists, sword swallowers, and a girl who had been born without arms or legs. It was one of the best-attended attractions at the fair, and after it closed the Odditorium made stops around the country at events like the California-Pacific Exhibition in San Diego and the 1939 New York World's Fair. The year 1939 also saw an Odditorium opened in Times Square by Ripley's firm International Oddities, Inc., but it closed a year later.
Though his foreign travels were halted by the onset of World War II, during the 1940s Ripley continued his daily comic strip and radio work and also began to focus on licensing his name for a host of products that ranged from trading cards to women's clothing. In 1949, he made the switch from radio to the new medium of television, but shortly after completing the 13th episode of his new program, Robert Ripley had a heart attack and died.
After his death, Ripley's business affairs were taken over by his younger brother Douglas. His manager, Doug Storer, oversaw publication of the newspaper cartoon, which continued to be compiled by Norbert Pearlroth, with the drawing done by Paul Frehm. A public auction of Ripley's estate was held, and many of the oddities he had collected were purchased by John Arthur, who opened a new, permanent "Believe It or Not" museum in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1950.
Douglas Ripley soon proved incapable of managing the business, and Storer and Arthur took control. During the 1950s, many books, magazines, and comic books bearing the Ripley imprint were published, and museums opened in Las Vegas (1952), Atlantic City (1954, closed 1957), and New York City (1957). In 1959, Storer retired, leaving the firm in the hands of John Arthur.
In 1963, Arthur joined with a Canadian, T. Alec Rigby, to open a museum in Niagara Falls, Canada, and Rigby soon opened additional ones in San Francisco and Chicago, as well as acquiring the Louis Tussaud Wax Museum nameplate. In 1969, Rigby became the sole owner of Ripley's "Believe It or Not" enterprise and moved the firm's headquarters from New York to Toronto, where it became known as Ripley's International, Ltd.
Expansion continued in the 1970s, with museums opened in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (1970), Ripley's home town of Santa Rosa, California (1971), Blackpool, England (1972), and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (1976). The firm's New York museum was shuttered in 1972, while the Blackpool one closed in 1976.
Ripley's "Believe It or Not" returned to television in 1982 with a series hosted by actor Jack Palance that ran for four seasons. The television exposure helped boost interest in the firm's museums, which saw revenues increase by 40 percent. By the mid-1980s, new locations had opened in Ocean City, Maryland, and on the French Riviera.
Acquisition by Jim Pattison Group in 1985
In early 1985, Ripley's International was sold to the Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver, British Columbia, for a reported $6 million. Pattison had become one of Canada's wealthiest men by assembling a group of companies that included car dealerships, radio stations, and a sign and outdoor advertising company.
With an infusion of $5 million from Pattison, a new expansion plan was developed, and the firm began franchising its museum concept. The first franchised site opened in 1986 in Newport, Oregon, and others soon followed in Las Vegas and New Orleans. In 1987, the firm's Chicago museum closed, but the next year new museums opened at Surfer's Paradise, Australia, and San Antonio, Texas. By this time, there were a total of 11 "Believe It or Not" museums and three Louis Tussaud Wax Museums in operation.
In 1989, the firm's publishing unit signed with United Media, ending a 60-year relationship with King Features Syndicate. A new museum was also opened in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie, Texas, and in December company veteran Bob Masterson was appointed president. The start of the 1990s saw a spate of new museum openings in various cities, including Orlando, Florida; Seoul, South Korea; Blackpool, England; and Buena Park, California. The firm's New Orleans museum was shuttered, however, as its family entertainment offerings had proven incompatible with the adult-oriented French Quarter where it was located.
In 1991, the firm unveiled a new type of attraction in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Ripley's Moving Theater had seats that moved in synchronization with a high-resolution 70mm film image, creating a heightened sense of reality as viewers experienced a variety of thrills. The following July, the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ripley's museum burned to the ground, destroying nearly all of its contents.
Growth and diversity are the key words in our future, just as they have been the common element in our storied past. From a newspaper cartoon drawing we have grown into an international amusement/attraction company. In the new millennium we will continue to produce books, television shows, licensed logo products and build new state of the art attractions around the world.
The year 1992 saw new franchised museums opened in Mexico City; Great Yarmouth, England; Hollywood, California; and Orlando, Florida. The latter locale was a typical entry in the firm's chain. The $2 million museum, whose eye-catching exterior was designed to appear as if it was falling into a sinkhole, boasted 9,000 square feet of exhibit space. Nearly a dozen themed galleries used music, sound effects, and videos to enhance the display of several hundred items, which ranged from a shrunken head and medieval torture devices to a ten-foot section of the Berlin Wall and a two-thirds scale model of a 1907 Rolls Royce made from one million matchsticks.
To keep the displays fresh, each year 15 to 20 percent of the museum would be changed, as repeat customers accounted for an estimated 30 percent of the firm's business. Parent company Ripley Entertainment owned the objects on display and maintained a warehouse full of items which were constantly being added to. While some were purchased at auction or from dealers, many were brought in by the public.
Headquarters Moved to Florida in 1993
In 1993, the firm, now known as Ripley Entertainment, Inc., moved its headquarters to Orlando, Florida, and celebrated the 75th anniversary of the "Believe It or Not" strip with special exhibits at the firm's museums, a two-hour television special on the TBS cable network, an animated children's TV series, and a book titled Dear Mr. Ripley that compiled some of the millions of letters Ripley's fans had sent him. The company, which had published over 70 books by this time, continued to create a daily "Believe It or Not" cartoon that appeared in some 200 papers in more than 40 countries. In 1993, a new franchised museum opened in Key West, Florida, and the following year another in Branson, Missouri.
At this time, the company's leadership began looking at new ways for the firm to grow. Ripley Entertainment had always located its attractions at tourist destination spots like Niagara Falls or the Alamo, where a family might go on a days-long vacation trip but exhaust the possibilities of the main attraction in an afternoon. The firm's museums offered one intriguing way to spend the remainder of their time, and Bob Masterson and the company's other executives sought out other unusual and memorable ways to entertain families.
In January 1995, Ripley Entertainment announced that it would build a new high-tech aquarium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The $36 million facility would feature displays of exotic fish, some interactive elements, a restaurant, and a gift shop. In February, a new Ripley's museum and Moving Theater opened in Pattaya, Thailand, and in March the firm reached an agreement to purchase two Guinness World of Records museums and take over the administration of seven others. Ripley would also have the option of franchising additional ones. In April, the rebuilt Gatlinburg Ripley's museum was opened. A handful of items that had survived its predecessor's fire were displayed, but most exhibits were new. At 17,500 square feet, it had double the space of the earlier museum and was the largest in the firm's chain, which now numbered 24. Other Odditoriums were opened during the year in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines, though the former was later closed due to political turmoil in that country. To open a museum, the firm reportedly charged a $5 million franchise fee and 15 percent of revenues.
Aquarium Opens in 1997
In 1997, the Myrtle Beach aquarium began operations. Its exhibits included a 600,000-gallon shipwreck-themed shark tank which visitors walked through via a 310-foot acrylic tunnel, a ray pool where the flat fish could be touched, an Amazon rain forest habitat, and the Sea-for-Yourself Discovery Center, which was shaped like a submarine. The facility was rounded out with a gift shop and two restaurants. Admission was $12.95 for adults and $6.95 for children, slightly more than what the firm's museums charged.
Expansion to Asia continued with franchised museums in Taegu, South Korea, and Hong Kong in 1997 and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Ghuangzhou, China, in 1998. Also in 1998, a Guinness franchise also opened in Talchung, Taiwan, and the company began working with merchandising firm Sony Signatures to reposition the Ripley brand worldwide by developing new books, computer games, and other entertainment products.
In October 1999, Ripley paid a total of $1.3 million for more than 50 items that had belonged to the late Marilyn Monroe, including shoes, clothing, photographs, her driver's license, and her makeup case. They would be displayed at the firm's Hollywood museum before traveling to others in the chain.
- Robert Ripley publishes his first comic strip of odd facts in the New York Globe.
- King Features Syndicate signs Ripley, bringing his comic strip to a worldwide audience.
- The first "Odditorium" opens at the Chicago World's Fair with exhibits and live acts.
- Ripley dies after filming the thirteenth episode of his TV show, and the firm is taken over by his brother.
- A new Ripley museum opens in St. Augustine, Florida.
- Doug Storer and John Arthur take over the firm; Las Vegas, New York, and Atlantic City museums open.
- Niagara Falls, Chicago, and San Francisco museums open; L. Tussaud is acquired.
- T. Alec Rigby becomes the sole owner of the firm.
- New museums open in Tennessee, Southern Carolina, and England.
- A Believe It or Not television series hosted by Jack Palance debuts.
- Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada buys the Ripley firm.
- The first franchised museum opens in Oregon; others follow in the United States and abroad.
- The first Ripley's Moving Theater opens in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
- Ripley's Aquarium opens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
- The first Ripley's Haunted Adventure opens in Gatlinburg.
- A new Ripley's television series debuts on the cable station TBS; a Gatlinburg aquarium opens.
- Work begins on $200 million hotel, waterpark, and aquarium in Niagara Falls.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most popular U.S. national park) had long been one of the firm's prime markets, and in 1999 another new concept, Ripley's Haunted Adventure, was unveiled there. It featured several themed rooms in which live actors delivered chills to visitors. In late 2000, the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, built at a cost of $50 million, also opened in Gatlinburg.
New Television Series in 2000
In January 2000, a new hour-long Ripley's Believe It Or Not television series, hosted by actor Dean Cain, debuted on TBS with the largest audience for an original series premiere, excluding sports, in basic cable history. New Haunted Adventures attractions also opened in 2001 in Myrtle Beach and in 2002 in San Antonio. Yet another new concept was Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, which opened in Gatlinburg in July 2002.
By now, the firm had more than 40 attractions in nine countries, which brought in 11 million visitors per year. Of the 25 "Believe It or Not" museums, the company owned seven, as well as all three Ripley's Moving Theaters (which had recently been converted to show 3D movies), two Haunted Adventures, and both aquariums. Only one of the six Guinness World of Records facilities, in Orlando, was owned by the firm, and that unit, which had opened in 2000, closed the same year.
In the fall of 2002, Ripley Entertainment signed an agreement with Paramount Pictures to develop a film series about Robert Ripley's adventures, which was expected to resemble "a goofy version" of Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones films. Revenues for the year were estimated at $85 million, with profits put at $30 million.
In 2003, new franchised Ripley's museums were opened in Key West, Florida, and New Orleans, the latter replacing a closed Planet Hollywood restaurant there. After making offers on failing aquarium operations in Denver, Colorado, and Duluth, Minnesota, the firm took control of the latter in early 2003.
In January 2004, Ripley bought the Grand Prairie and San Antonio, Texas, Ripley's museums and adjoining wax museums from their owner. The firm would refurbish the former and rebrand the latter as Louis Tussaud Wax Museums. Early 2004 also saw acquisition of the Big Red Train tour bus company in St. Augustine, Florida. Revenues had doubled within the previous three years and were expected to double again in the next three, according to CEO Masterson.
In early 2004, the firm announced plans to build a $200 million complex near Niagara Falls, Canada, called The Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark Resort. Expected to open in late 2005 or 2006, it would include a 404-room hotel and an indoor water-park, with a separate Ripley's Aquarium to be completed nearby a year later. The hotel-waterpark concept had been licensed from The Great Lakes Co. of Madison, Wisconsin, which would manage it for the first five years. A new Ripley's museum in Spain and two new mini-golf courses were also slated to open in 2005, and the firm was considering a $350 million project for Singapore and acquisitions of other attractions, including planetariums and science and history museums.
Ripley Entertainment, Inc. had taken cartoonist Robert Ripley's fascination for strange and entertaining facts into a new high-concept dimension with its chain of Ripley's "Believe It or Not" museums and had also branched out into wax museums, movie theaters, aquariums, haunted houses, and more. With nine decades of experience satisfying the public's seemingly endless appetite for the bizarre and unexplained, the firm looked forward to many more years of entertainment to come.
Landry's Restaurant, Inc.; Busch Entertainment Corp.; The Tussauds Group; Universal Parks & Resorts; The Walt Disney Company; Six Flags, Inc.; Cedar Fair, L.P.
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