Popeye, pipe-smoker and spinach-eater.
Popeye made his first public appearance Jan. 17, 1929, in Elzie Segar's then 10-year-old comic strip, "Thimble Theatre," which originally revolved around Olive Oyl's family. Although he was introduced as a minor walk-on character, Popeye quickly "muskled" his way into the limelight and eclipsed the older characters to become the star of "Thimble Theatre." With Popeye came a host of new, off-beat funny folks such as Swee'Pea, the "infink" Popeye adopted; J. Wellington Wimpy, the world's most hamburger-obsessed moocher; and Brutus, the hairy "heavy" with the glass jaw.
Segar had a genius for creating strong, memorable characters the entire world knows and loves. "Not even Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse or Warner Bros.' Bugs Bunny can top Popeye in the high profile department ... (because) both the Rodent and the Wabbit have known long stretches of inactivity between film appearances ... (but) the monocular seafarer has seldom been caught without a new adventure in the works," wrote Michael H. Price of The New York Times News Service.
Popeye made the jump to the silver screen in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon entitled Popeye the Sailor from the Fleischer Studios. Nearly 600 Popeye cartoons were made and are still in worldwide syndication.
Known as Iron Arm in Italy, Karl Alfred in Sweden and Skipper Skraek or "Terror of the Sea" in Denmark, Popeye continues to appear in comic books published around the world.
Interestingly, Popeye's spinach obsession began in the Thimble Theatre strip but became an indispensable plot device in his later animated adventures. Spinach capital Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue in 1937 to honor E.C. Segar and Popeye for their influence on America's eating habits, making Popeye the first cartoon character ever immortalized in public sculpture. The spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach consumption -- and saving the spinach industry in the 1930s!
Today the sailorman has made Popeye-brand canned spinach the #2 brand behind Del Monte and he has his own brand of fresh spinach and salads. Popeye was the first character to invade, in an important way, the toy and novelty field. From tin wind-up toys to puzzles and kazoo pipes, early Popeye novelty merchandise now carries staggering price tags in antique shops and flea markets.