Beauty pageants have existed for a very long time – probably since the beginning of history, in one form or another. It wasn’t until 1921 when fabulous young contestants began competing in the Miss America Pageant, and even later – more than thirty years later – for the Miss Universe crown. Much like most things in history, the pageant changed quite a bit since the very first contest in 1952, and as such, the contestants’ styles have changed a lot too. Here’s how the Miss Universe pageant has changed between its inception and today, and more importantly, how the contest looked the year you were born!
1. Finland, 1952
Pageant queens have been around since 1921, when glamorous young contestants began competing for the Miss America crown. The Miss Universe competition, which, to our knowledge, doesn’t include contestants from other galaxies yet, got its start in 1952. And what an event it was.
Seventeen-year-old Finnish native, Armi Kuusela, became the first ever Miss Universe winner that year. After she was crowned, Kuusela spent time touring the world. It was during that trip that she met Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario. The two fell so madly in love that Kuusela chose to give up her Miss Universe Crown less than a year after receiving it to marry Hilario in Tokyo!
2. USA, 1954
Miriam Stevenson became the first American to hold the Miss Universe crown in 1954, in only the third Miss Universe pageant ever. Indeed, it was a mighty contentious contest between Stevenson and Brazil’s Martha Rocha – the two were actually tied until the tie-breaking judgement was decided in her favor.
Stevenson had a year-long stint in Hollywood at Universal Studios after the pageant, through the contract she won. But the South Carolina-native grabbed headlines in Variety when she decided to return home to complete her education – something that hasn’t historically been required of Miss Universe victors. Stevenson has since hosted television shows, served as a Miss Universe judge and much more.
3. Sweden, 1955
This Miss Universe pageant was held in California, at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in Long Beach. For the second time in the four years the contest was held, a northern European contestant took the cake. Hillevi Rombin Schine, a Swedish woman who was crowned as Miss Sweden, certainly deserved it!
After winning the crown, the talented Hillevi Rombin headed to Hollywood and studied acting with the likes of Clint Eastwood and Barbara Eden. Afterward, she landed a few small roles, in films like 1955’s The Benny Goodman Story and 1957’s Istanbul. Another fun fact? She later married hotel mogul G. David Schine, who later worked for the infamous late Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
4. USA, 1956
For the second time since the start of the Miss Universe pageant, the contestant representing the land of the free and the home of the brave was victorious. American Carol Morris, a Nebraska native, was a successful student at Drake University in Iowa, where she was a sorority sister and decorated swim team member, before she became Miss America and entered the pageant.
In the talent portion of the contest, the wildly talented Carol Morris played Stardust on her violin. It was a stunning performance that wood many and helped earn her the crown. After she won it, Morris was a particularly active Miss Universe. She met Presidents Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover, entertained U.S. troops with Bob Hope and acted in several films and television shows.
5. Japan, 1959
The eighth Miss Universe pageant ushered in the first ever Asian winner. Akiko Kojima was a 22-year-old Japanese model from Tokyo, Japan, when she beat four other finalists from Norway, England, the U.S. and Brazil. Although she brought her country great honor for winning, Kojima didn’t douse in her victory after the competition ended.
Unlike previous Miss Universe winners, the Japanese talent didn’t go into acting or pursue any further fame after the pageant, instead choosing to settle into a quiet married life. Her decision likely had to do with Japanese society at the time! Keep reading to discover what Miss Universe pageants were like when you were born.
6. USA, 1960
Salt Lake City native Linda Bement became the third American to take the Miss Universe crown at the dawn of the swinging ’60s. Perhaps fittingly, it was the first time the competition was held in Miami Beach, Florida, although the city would enter a period of decline a decade later.
Not only was Bement the third American winner, but she was the second woman from Utah to be crowned Miss USA. Up until this point, it seems, the judges preferred women from Utah. The 1960 pageant also made history as the first Miss Universe pageant to be televised nationwide. What a year!
7. Greece, 1964
This Miss Universe was a big-hearted one. Not only did Corinna Tsopei become the first Greek winner of the international pageant, but she showed the world her passion was to help people after she won. Tsopei beat out Miss England, Miss Israel, Miss Sweden and Miss Republic of China with her endless Greek charm.
Tsopei did follow the lead of other Misses Universe in taking a few Hollywood gigs, such as Lost in Space and A Guide for the Married Man. But apart from her pageant work and acting career, the Greek national also is chairman for an organization that seeks to help children with leukemia. You go, girl!
8. Philippines, 1969
As many American Miss Universe winners there were throughout the ’50s and ’60s, the pageant’s winners proved early on to be quite diverse. In 1969, Gloria Diaz became the first Miss Universe from the Philippines, chosen out of 60 other contestants.
Rather than going for Hollywood after her victory, Diaz pursued acting in her home country – which turned out brilliantly. She landed her breakthrough role in 1975, and was hailed as having one of the most promising breakthroughs of any actress in Philippine film. For decades now, she has been considered one of the Philippines’ top-notch actresses. You’ll hear more about her later.
9. Puerto Rico, 1970
The Miss Universe pageant that kicked off the groovy ’70s facilitated an inspirational rags-to-riches story that touched hearts everywhere. Marisol Malaret took the crown that year for her native Puerto Rico, for the first time in history. And she worked her tail off to make that happen.
Maralet’s parents both passed when she was still young. As a result, she had to work to make her own money early on. One day, Puerto Rican make-up artist Carmen Andino convinced her to compete in the Miss Puerto Rico pageant. Her strong will and untouchable ethics quickly helped her stand out from the pack. Before she won, she also worked as an executive secretary in the Puerto Rico Telephone Company.
10. Israel, 1976
When Rina Messinger won the Miss Universe pageant in ’76 for Israel, she wanted to show the world a different side of her country. “I’m no politician,” she remarked upon becoming the first and only Israeli Miss Universe. “I think my being Miss Universe will show people that Israel has another side, not only war.”
One of the contest questions directed at Messinger asked which country she would most like to visit. Immediately, Messinger said, “an Arab one.” Indeed, heavy security was put in place when Messinger kicked off her victory world tour with Bangkok. Keep reading, there are other Miss Universe pageants to see!
11. Trinidad & Tobago, 1977
There are a lot of firsts on this lists – and kudos to the Miss Universe pageant for facilitating them. In 1977, the impressive Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago became the first black woman to take the Miss Universe crown. Indeed, she used her glamorous position to advocate for black rights and world peace.
Before she became the 25th Miss Universe, Commissiong migrated to the United States when she was 13. She lived in New York City and studied fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology before returning home to Trinidad. Once she won, Commissiong was awarded the Trinity Cross, the country’s highest honor!
12. Venezuela, 1981
Irene Sáez ended up being much more than a beauty queen. It was the year 1981 when Sáez took the Miss Universe crown for her native Venezuela. That year, the pageant, held in New York City, returned to the United States for the first time in nine years.
Quite remarkably, Sáez decided to pursue a path starkly different from those of her predecessors. Rather than acting, Sáez pursued a degree in political science after her reign as Miss Universe. She spent a year as Venezuela’s cultural representative to the U.N., and later went on to serve as mayor of a Venezuelan municipality. She was even a presidential contender!
13. Canada, 1982
Though it might be surprising to some that it took one of the largest countries in the world thirty years to take the crown, the talented Kate Dianne Baldwin became the first Canadian ever to win the Miss Universe pageant in 1982.
Baldwin overtook its southern neighbor, the United States, in the contest, along with Guam, Italy and Greece. The green-eyed brunette continued her career in show business after her reign, co-hosting a later Miss Universe pageant in Cancun, Mexico, and appearing in several films. Later in life, Baldwin followed her real-estate-broker father’s footsteps, working as a realtor in Calabasas, California.
14. Sweden, 1984
There’s just something about that Swedish charm that seemed to get the Miss Universe judges excited. Yvonne Ryding, who was formerly a soccer player and nurse, took the Miss Universe crown in 1984, becoming the third Swede to ever do so.
After her victory and ensuing world tour, Ryding worked in the fashion industry abroad. But it’s not always easy to be away from home. Indeed, Ryding got homesick and returned to her native Sweden, where she launched a skincare line. She also competed in a Swedish televised dance contest and was a guest of honor at a later Miss Universe pageant held in Los Angeles.
15. Chile, 1987
Cecilia Bolocco went on to do big things after emerging victorious in the 1987 Miss Universe pageant, in which she beat out Italy, the United States, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Rather than focusing exclusively on acting, Bolocco went on to become a Spanish-language journalist for CNN, Telemundo and other Chilean television programs.
While she was working as an anchorwoman for CNN’s Spanish section, she was working in Atlanta, Georgia. She did, however, also act in various television programs. Bolocco even won two Emmy awards. Oh – and just a by-the-way, she was also married to former Argentine president Carlos Menem. Keep reading – we’re entering the ’90s now!
16. Norway, 1990
Mona Grudt was the first and only Miss Universe from Norway, as well as the first and only self-described “beauty queen from hell.” If you’re wondering how she earned such a reputation – it wasn’t by breaking the pageant rules. Grudt happens to hail from Hell, Norway. Grudt’s slogan seemed to work, as she became a clear favorite of the judges early on in the contest.
During her time as the universe’s beauty queen, the Norwegian national appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was the last Miss Universe to accompany Bob Hope on one of his tours to entertain the troops. Later, she participated in the Norwegian Dancing with the Stars, coming in second place!
17. India, 1994
All hail Miss India! Sushmita Sen became the first Indian woman to seize the Miss Universe crown in 1994, thus bringing great honor to her country and family. Sen hails from a well-off family – her father was a former Indian Air Force Wing Commander and her mother was a jewelry designer. She was only 18 when she won the contest.
Since then, the talented Sen continued to model and also ventured into the world of acting, though not in Hollywood. Today, she is known for her incredible work in Hindi films, though she has appeared in Tamil and Bengali films as well.
18. USA, 1995
It was a big year for America when Chelsi Smith, the incredible Miss USA who hailed from Texas, took the Miss Universe crown. Not only was Smith the first American in 15 years to have won the pageant, but she also became the first Miss Universe of African-American heritage ever.
The Miss Texas who would go on to win it all was born in Redwood City, California to 19-year-old parents Craig Smith, an African-American maintenance man, and Mary Denise Trimble, a white secretary – though she was raised by her paternal great-grandparents. She was just studying education in college before she won the Miss USA pageant that would be the breakthrough she needed to later go on to sing, act and host television shows!
19. Venezuela, 1996
The Miss Universe pageant really does seem to like Venezuelan talent – Alicia Machado was the fourth Venezuelan to win the title of Miss Universe. It should be mentioned: it’s unclear how extraterrestrial life feels about the humanoid pageant that fails to include others from around the universe. But our planet absolutely loved Machado.
The Venezuelan, born to a toy-store owning father who immigrated from Spain and a Cuban immigrant mother, began dancing at the impressive age of four, and starting acting at age 12. She made headlines again in 2016 when she spoke out against then-candidate Donald Trump, who owned the Miss Universe pageant during her reign.
20. Trinidad & Tobago, 1998
Wendy Fitzwilliam made swimsuit history when she took the Miss Universe reign in 1998. That’s right – in addition to being the second Miss Trinidad and Tobago and fourth woman of African heritage to win the pageant, she also became the first contestant to wear a bikini in the swimsuit competition!
During her reign, Fitzwilliam was honored by the United Nations for her work in HIV/AIDS education and awareness. She went on to become a lawyer, actress, singer and television host. She appeared on shows like Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” and CNN’s “Talk Back Live.” Keep reading – we’re now entering the 21st century of pageants!
21. Russia, 2002
It had been 11 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time until a Russian woman would emerge victorious in the Miss Universe pageant. Well, 2002 was the year. Oxana Fedorova beat her competition and won hearts around the world, but her reign didn’t last very long.
A mere 119 days after she took the Miss Universe crown and made the Russian nation proud, Fedorova was dethroned. The reasons for which her crown was taken from her prematurely are unknown, but what’s clear is she began a successful television career afterward, hosting various Russian programs and participating in charity projects. Good for her!
22. Australia, 2004
This year’s Miss Universe really knew how to run with her exposure to advance in her career afterward. Australian Jennifer Hawkins beat out the United States, Puerto Rico, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago in the 2004 Miss Universe beauty pageant held in Quito, Ecuador – and ran with it to achieve great success.
After her reign, Hawkins went on to become the founder and CEO of two successful brands, and manages a portfolio of properties. She also sent on to host Australia’s Next Top Model. Her list of accomplishments seems to never end, including before her time in the beauty pageant – Hawkins was a cheerleader and choreographer before she achieved fame.
23. Japan, 2007
Riyo Mori was destined for greatness. Raised an only child, she began dancing at age four and studied ballet in Canada after her family moved there. Mori still has her first pair of ballet shoes to remember where the hard work took her – which happened to be reigning as Miss Japan and Miss Universe in 2007.
After her reign as the latter, the Japanese talent starred in Donald Trump’s MTV reality show Pageant Place, and later appeared in Jessica Simpson’s VH1 reality show The Price of Beauty in 2010. When she was asked about her plans for the future after she won, Mori said she planned to open a multicultural dance school in Tokyo!
24. Colombia, 2014
Considering the impeccable reputation Colombians have all over the world, it’s almost unbelievable Paulina Vega was the second Colombian woman in 56 years to become the Miss Universe titleholder. But Vega sure did earn the crown, and used it to promote the powers of good.
Vega was born in Barranquilla, Colombia to a cardiologist and his wife, and has one sister. After her reign as Miss Universe, Vega went on to join the fight against AIDS, volunteering with different organization and marching in the 30th annual AIDS Walk New York. During her reign as Miss Universe, she traveled to twelve different countries.
25. South Africa, 2017
Now for the Miss Universe titleholder and second from South Africa: Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. Truly a remarkable woman, Nel-Peters began her pageantry career in the Miss South Africa competition of 2017, which, of course, she won. She has a business management degree and is fluent in both English and Afrikaans.
In the final round of the contest, host Steve Harvey asked Nel-Peters what she thought was the most important challenge women face in the workplace. Her response? “In some places, women get paid 75% of what men earn for doing the same job, working the same hours — and I do not believe that this is right. I think we should have equal work for equal pay for women all over the world.”
26. Philippines, 2018
Miss Philippines Catriona Gray was crowned as Miss Universe 2018 on December 17, 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand! The half-Scottish, half-Filipino TV host, model, singer, and model is the fourth Filipino to gain the pageant title in history. What’s more, Gray was actually born in Cairns, Australia making her Australian too. She moved to the Philippines when she was 18.
Before securing this honorable title, Gray won Miss Universe Philippines in 2018 and Miss World Philippines in 2016 using her signature twirl runway move, known as the “slow-mo” twirl. She also attended college in U.S. at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. At just 24-year-old, Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray is dedicated to end poverty in her beloved Philippines by raising awareness through her project Paraiso: The Bright Beginnings Project.
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