What if you could start a business that includes all of your interests, and then later in life, start a museum? Could you imagine starting a museum that has many of the things that interest you in it?
If you could do that, then you would be Robert Petersen. Robert E. Petersen was quiet, but very determined and also extremely successful. A happy, creative and insightful man, he started the Petersen Publishing Company and the amazing Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Robert Einar Petersen was a native of Southern California who was born in 1927. His mother died when he was 10, leaving his Danish father to take care of him. His father was a mechanic and often took Robert to work with him. At age 12, Robert knew how to weld and fix an engine- any engine at that. After graduating from Barstow high-school in the early 1940’s he went to work in the Hollywood movie studios as a messenger boy. After a brief Army Air Corps stint of just one year, he started a publishing company.
In 1948, he started Hot Rod Magazine, which was all about the growing hot rod culture. He sold copies of Hot Rod at local speedways, such as Riverside International, for 25 cents apiece. It was a way for him, and the others that worked alongside him, to give helpful advice to teens and have fun. He was instrumental in creating the first hot rod show.
In 1949, he created Motor Trend, a magazine that was focused towards the production car enthusiasts. Production cars are cars that come off a production line and are not custom built. In addition to Motor Trend and Hot Rod, he created about six more magazines, such as Teen and CARtoons.
He is firmly remembered in the business world as a success story. He was actively into sport shooting, and was the Commissioner for sport shooting in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He had to construct a sport shooting range on the site of an old dairy farm within a month.
In 1994, one of his lifelong passions came true; he and his wife Margie Petersen created the Petersen Automotive Museum as an educational museum. Most of the cars inside the 300,000 square foot area are from his own collection.
He was the president of the Los Angeles Boys & Girls club for many years and was on the national board for the boys and girls clubs throughout the U.S. He also supported many charities for children until his death.
The Directors of the Petersen Automotive Museum said “What made him so special was that he gave every ounce of his energy and abilities to his dreams. He was a quiet man who truly became an American icon.” The Directors also said “He made his living doing things he loved and he found success at every turn. The way he lived his life, always looking for ways to give back in return for the success he enjoyed, made you proud to count him as a friend. The museum is now his legacy.”
He died on Friday, March 23rd, 2007 after a short but valiant battle with cancer at age 80. His wife Margie survived him.
Overall, Robert E. Petersen was a man of few words, but loved to pursue whatever he wanted to with a passion. He was also very much into hunting and having a good time. Robert E. Petersen gave back as much as he got out of life. What a lucky man!
If you would like to read more from the Petersen Museum website, then I hope you will enjoy the link.