Tourism to cosmetics: Know the incredible history of Miss Universe pageant

Entertainer Steve Harvey speaks on stage during the 2019 Miss Universe pageant at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia in 2019. Photo: AFP / VALERIE MACON

The International Pageant of Pulchritude held in 1926 served as an inspiration and model for the Miss Universe beauty pageant. The contest originated in the island town of Gavelston in the US as part of efforts to recover the tourism and hotel industry that was in shambles after the devastating hurricane of 1990.

Local beauty contests were already popular in the US as a means to attract tourists. Seeing their incredible popularity, the organizers decided to hold a grand event in Gavelston by including contestants from around the world.

Even though contestants from countries like England, Russia, Turkey, Austria, Egypt, Japan and Brazil took part in the annual contest, the title was always won by the American beauties. Irked by this trend, Brazil, in 1930, held the Miss Universe contest on their own and crowned Miss Brazil as the winner.

Meanwhile, Miss USA won the title in the contest that was held in America, as usual. The event in Gavelston was discontinued following the Great Depression of 1932. The modern version of the Miss Universe beauty pageant was started in 1952. So, this is considered the first official ‘Miss Universe’ beauty pageant and the list of winners begin from then.

If the International Pageant of Pulchritude was held to give a boost to the tourism sector of Gavelston, modern day beauty pageants aim to open up new markets for cosmetic and fashion brands all over the world. 

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