• 5
Robert E. Petersen passed away today after a short battle with neuroendocrine cancer at the age of 80. Automotive journalists everywhere owe a good degree of gratitude to Petersen, who founded such magazines as Motor Trend, Hot Rod and Car Craft with his company, Petersen Publishing Inc. In fact, many of the titles published by Petersen reflected the man's own interests beyond the realm of autos, for instance Guns & Ammo. Petersen also realized his dream (and many of ours) of building a museum honoring the automobile, and in 1994 the seminal Petersen Automotive Museum was opened in Los Angeles.

To learn more about Robert E. Petersen and his life, check out the press release we received after the jump, as well as this interesting interview recently published by Motor Trend Classic.

Petersen is survived by his wife, Margie. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Petersen Automotive Museum or the charity of the person's choice in his honor.

Robert E. Petersen, Founder of Hot Rod, Motor Trend Magazines and Benefactor of the Petersen Automotive Museum Passes On at 80

Robert E. Petersen, an entrepreneur who single-handedly created the largest special-interest publishing company in America, was instrumental in the evolution of the hot-rodding culture, and who, with his wife Margie, realized his dream of establishing an educational museum to pay tribute to the automobile, died on Friday, March 23, at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. after a short but valiant battle with neuroendocrine cancer. He was 80.

"Mr. Petersen helped create and feed the American obsession with the automobile, delivering gasoline-powered dreams to the mailboxes of millions," said Dick Messer, Director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. "He understood the thrill that an average person could get from seeing and reading about horsepower as an art form."

A native of Southern California, Mr. Petersen's mother passed away when he was 10, leaving him with his Danish-immigrant father, who worked as a truck and equipment mechanic. As a young man he picked up his father's skills, learning to weld, de-coke engines, and hone his fascination with cars.

After graduating from Barstow High School in the mid-1940s, he moved to Los Angeles, working at MGM studios as a messenger boy. Following service in the Army Air Corps toward the end of Word War II, Mr. Petersen, now an independent publicist immersed in the burgeoning customized auto culture of California, was instrumental in creating the first hot-rod show at the Los Angeles Armory. To help establish the event, in January 1948 he launched Hot Rod Magazine, and hawked the magazine at local speedways for 25 cents a copy. Motor Trend, a more upscale publication for production car enthusiasts, and dozens of other titles aimed at specialty automotive segments soon followed.

Mr. Petersen spent decades as Chairman of the Board of Petersen Publishing Company, which was at one time America's leading publisher of special-interest consumer magazines and books before its sale to private investors in August 1996. Among its other diverse successful titles are Teen, Sport, Rod & Custom, and Guns & Ammo. He also headed a wide variety of other businesses including ammunition manufacturing, real estate development and aviation services that each reflected another passion he shared.

Firmly established as an American success story, Mr. Petersen had one lasting vision: an educational museum to pay tribute to the automobile. On June 11, 1994, the lifelong dream of Robert E. Petersen was fulfilled with the opening of a 300,000-square-foot automotive museum named in his honor, made possible by his $30 million endowment.

Today the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles stands as the nation's premiere automotive museum, serving thousands of visitors each year. Its mission remains to educate and excite generations of auto enthusiasts with the fascinating stories, vehicles and people that have influenced the American love affair with the automobile – a mission that has been a resounding success thanks to the generosity of its main benefactor.

In addition to his noted auto collection, Mr. Petersen also developed a keen interest in sport shooting. He served as Shooting Sports Commissioner for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, where he was responsible for building that venue from an old dairy farm within six months.

Mr. Petersen served as president and chairman of the board of the Boys' and Girls' Club of Hollywood, and was a member of the National Board of Directors for the Boys' and Girls' Club of America. He was active in support of numerous children's charities and also served as a member for the Los Angeles City Library Commission.

Both he and his wife have been major contributors to the Music Center of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Additionally, he was a founding member of the Thalians social society, which raises money for the Mental Health Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His ongoing contributions to the community earned him numerous special citations from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Los Angeles City Council.

Mr. Petersen was to be honored with both the 'Automotive Icon' and 'Visionary' awards at the Petersen museum's annual gala on May 10. The ceremony will now be held as a tribute to Mr. Petersen and his contributions to the institution and community.

"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 Petersen museum's Messer 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 is survived by his wife, Margie. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Petersen Automotive Museum or the charity of the person's choice in his honor. Funeral mass will be held Thursday, March 29, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 5 Comments
      Benjamin Garza
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mr. Petersen was not only a Great Publisher of special interest magazine but he was also a great employer. I enjoyed working for Petersen Publishing Co. for nearly 21 years and I have Mr.petersen to thank for my career in magazine publishing.

      Many time I would speak to Mr. Petersen on the elevator or at the ranch when we would enjoy a day of bike riding and shooting and he was always easy to spealk to and friendly.

      I would like to offer my condolences to Mrs. Petersen and would like to thank the Petersen's for giving me an the opportunity to learn the publishing business from the ground up at Petersen Publishing, Los Angeles.

      Sincerely,
      Benji Garza


      • 8 Years Ago
      Through Hot Rod and the like, Petersen fueled
      the imaginations, and careers of many `car' people,
      including myself. There are two race cars in the
      museum that I am very proud to say I helped build.
      GOD bless you, Mr. Petersen. Rest in peace.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I knew Bob and his 2 sons Bobby & Richie (RIP)
      I used to his house with Bob's permishion, and see Nancy Reddin my old Dublin friend and I would show them how their guitars.
      I offer my condolences to Margie and family.
      Leo Byrne Ph # 562-862-9948
      • 8 Years Ago
      This is shocking news! This man was a giant in the car industry and leaves a tremendous void. He helped all kids build dreams of cars that they would done day see or own and he was a trememndous evangelist for the car passion.

      He will be greatly missed. I pray that the Lord will watch over Mr. Petersen's family and friends that he leaves behind.

      Thank you Mr. Petersen... RIP

      Brad
      • 8 Years Ago
      I knew Mr. Petersen through his publications and staff. He was a colorful and generous man. The publishing and automotive world will miss him. Few men come along and build so much, shared so much and added so much to so many lives.

      My condolences to his family, friends and all of those whose lives were touched directly or even through the millions of pages that his team published.

      David Harris