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August 4, 2016

Vintage Portrait Photographs of 30 Contestants From the Very First Miss Universe Pageant, 1952

Miss Universe 1952, the 1st Miss Universe pageant, was held on 28 June 1952 at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in Long Beach, California, USA. 30 contestants competed for the crown. The first winner of the pageant was 17-year-old Armi Kuusela of Finland, who was crowned by actress Piper Laurie.

An ad for Miss Universe in an April 1952 issue of LIFE enticed young women to enter the competition with the promise of a flight on “luxurious Pan American World Airways,” lodging at “the finest hotels overlooking the blue Pacific” and a chance to win a contract with Universal Studios. All an aspiring beauty queen had to do was mail in a photo of herself in a Catalina swim suit.

Between April and June, photographs were mailed, contestants were selected and Pan Am flights were boarded. And when the results rolled in, with Miss Finland taking home the tiara, not everyone was pleased. A July news brief in LIFE titled “Beauty queen sounds off” summarized Miss Italy’s charges that politics, not merit, had decided that year’s winners:
Finland was given first place to publicize the Olympics. Miss Hawaii placed second because Hawaii is a candidate for statehood. Miss Hong Kong was given third place to prove that the U.S. has no prejudice against Orientals, and Miss Germany got fifth place “just so [Chancellor] Adenauer will know there will always be a place for Germany in America’s round table.” Miss Italy said that only fourth-place Miss Greece earned a prize on the basis of her appearance.

(Photos: George Silk/LIFE archives, via


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