Robert E. Petersen, who founded Hot Rod Magazine, from which was launched the largest special interest publishing house in the U.S. and spurred on the burgeoning hot rodding culture, died Friday in Santa Monica after a short battle with 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, Calif., that Peterson also founded. 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, Petersens 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 fathers skills, learning to weld, de-coke engines, and hone his fascination with cars.
Following World II, Petersen 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.
Petersen spent decades as chairman of the board of Petersen Publishing Company. The company was sold to private investors in 1996. Among its diverse selection of 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.
Petersen had long harboured a desire for an instititution to pay tribute to the automobile and on June 11, 1994, Petersen held the opening of a 300,000-square-foot automotive museum named in his honor, made possible by his $30 million endowment.
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.
He was deeply involved in many community causes, of all social strata; from the boys and girls clubs, to the music and fine arts, from mental health center contributions to an active role in the Los Angeles Library Commission.
Petersen was to be honored with both the Automotive Icon and Visionary awards at the Petersen museums 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.
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 persons choice in his honor. Funeral mass will be held Thursday, March 29, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.
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