22 Vintage Photos of the Early Days of the Miss Universe Pageants in the 1950s

Miss Universe is an annual international beauty pageant that is run by the United States–based Miss Universe Organization. It is one of the most watched pageants in the world with an estimated audience of over 500 million viewers in over 190 territories. Along with Miss World, Miss International, and Miss Earth, Miss Universe is one of the Big Four international beauty pageants.

The Miss Universe Organization and its brand are currently owned by Endeavor. Telemundo has the licensing rights to air the pageant for the next 5 years. The pageant’s advocacy is “humanitarian issues and is a voice to affect positive change in the world.”

The current Miss Universe is Harnaaz Sandhu of India who was crowned on December 13, 2021 in Eilat, Israel.

The title “Miss Universe” was first used by the International Pageant of Pulchritude in 1926. This contest was held annually until 1935, when the Great Depression and other events preceding World War II led to its demise.

The current Miss Universe pageant was founded in 1952 by Pacific Knitting Mills, a California-based clothing company and manufacturer of Catalina Swimwear. The company was the sponsor of the Miss America pageant until 1951, when the winner, Yolande Betbeze, refused to pose for publicity pictures wearing one of their swimsuits. In 1952, Pacific Knitting Mills organized the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, co-sponsoring them for decades to follow.

The first Miss Universe Pageant was held in Long Beach, California in 1952. It was won by Armi Kuusela from Finland, who gave up her title, though not officially, to get married shortly before her year was completed. Until 1958, the Miss Universe title, like that of Miss America, was dated by the year following the contest, so at the time Ms. Kuusela’s title was Miss Universe 1953. Since its founding by Pacific Mills, the pageant has been organized and conducted by the Miss Universe Organization. Eventually, Pacific Mills and its subsidiaries were acquired by the Kayser-Roth Corporation, which was in turn acquired by Gulf and Western Industries.

The pageant was first televised in 1955. CBS began broadcasting the combined Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants in 1960, and as separate contests in 1965. More than 30 years later, Donald Trump bought the pageant in 1996 from ITT Corp, with a broadcasting arrangement with CBS until 2002. During this time, in 1998, Miss Universe, Inc. changed its name to the Miss Universe Organization, and moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to New York City. By late 2002, Trump entered into a joint venture with NBC, which in 2003 outbid the other markets for the TV rights. From 2003 to 2014, the pageant was broadcast in the United States on NBC.

In June 2015, NBC cancelled all business relationships with Trump and the Miss Universe Organization in response to controversial statements about illegal immigrants who crossed the border from Mexico. As part of the legal settlement, in September 2015, Trump bought out NBC’s 50% stake in the company, making him the company’s sole owner. Three days later, he sold the whole company to WME/IMG. Following the change of ownership, in October 2015, Fox and Azteca became the official broadcasters of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The current president of the Miss Universe Organization is Paula Shugart, who has held this position since 1997.

During the CBS telecast era, John Charles Daly hosted the Miss Universe Pageant from 1955 to 1966, Bob Barker from 1967 to 1987, Alan Thicke in 1988, John Forsythe in 1989, Dick Clark from 1990 to 1993, Bob Goen from 1994 to 1996, and Jack Wagner in 1998 and 1999. During the NBC telecast era, multiple hosts shared the duties—Billy Bush hosted the Miss Universe Pageant from 2003 to 2005 and 2009, Mario Lopez in 2007, Andy Cohen in 2011 and 2012, and Thomas Roberts in 2013 and 2014. Daisy Fuentes, Nancy O’Dell, Mel B and Natalie Morales are currently the only females to have hosted the event multiple times (from 2002 to 2004, 2005 and 2006, 2008 and 2013, and from 2010 to 2011 and 2014, respectively).

Between 2015 and 2019, Miss Universe is televised live by FOX and hosted annually by Steve Harvey. The backstage correspondents include Roselyn Sanchez in 2015, Ashley Graham from 2016 to 2018, Olivia Culpo in 2019. In 2020, the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA brands were split from the Miss Universe Organization into their independent organization, run by Crystle Stewart, while the broadcast rights to the Miss Universe Pageant was temporarily split between Telemundo and FYI. Due to uncertainties related to the 2020 pageant, Harvey could not present this edition. It was presented again by Mario Lopez, but this time accompanied by Culpo. The contract with FOX and Harvey was resumed for the 2021 edition. (Wikipedia)

Miss Universe contestants, 1953.
Miss Universe contestants, 1953.
Miss Italy inspects her bathing suit, 1953.
Miss Sweden and Miss Switzerland exchange friendly smiles at the 1953 Miss Universe pageant.
Miss USA flashes a smile, 1953.
Miss Universe contestants, 1953.
Miss Universe contestants, 1953.
Miss Peru, 1953
Contestants model evening gowns, 1953.
Miss France, winner of the 1953 Miss Universe pageant.
Miss Universe parade, 1954.
Contestants are applauded by sailors, 1954.
Miss Israel waves from a float, 1954.
Miss Argentina, 1954.
Miss Cuba on a parade float, 1954.
Miss Universe contestants, 1954.
Miss Peru, Gladys Zender, winner of the 1957 Miss Universe Contest.
Miss Universe contestants in evening dresses, 1957.
Audience members with binoculars during the 1957 Miss Universe contest.
Miss Universe contestants in bathing suits, 1957.
Winner Gladys Zender being crowned by former Miss Universe Carol Morris, 1957.
Miss Peru, Gladys Zender, winner of the 1957 Miss Universe Contest.

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