May 9, 2018

See Photos From the Early Days of the Miss Universe Pageants in the 1950s

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.

Miss Universe contestants, 1953. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Universe contestants, 1953. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Italy inspects her bathing suit, 1953. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Sweden and Miss Switzerland exchange friendly smiles at the 1953 Miss Universe pageant. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss USA flashes a smile, 1953. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Contestants model evening gowns, 1953. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss France, winner of the 1953 Miss Universe pageant. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Universe parade, 1954. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Contestants are applauded by sailors, 1954. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Israel waves from a float, 1954. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Argentina, 1954. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Cuba on a parade float, 1954. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Universe contestants, 1954. (George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Peru, Gladys Zender, winner of the 1957 Miss Universe Contest. (Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Universe contestants in evening dresses, 1957. (Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Audience members with binoculars during the 1957 Miss Universe contest. (Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Universe contestants in bathing suits, 1957. (Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Winner Gladys Zender being crowned by former Miss Universe Carol Morris, 1957. (Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Miss Peru, Gladys Zender, winner of the 1957 Miss Universe Contest. (Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)






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