Pearlroth was born May 7, 1893, in Tarnów, in what is now southern Poland, at the time part of the Habsburg Empire. He attended university in Kraków and was planning to become a lawyer, but the events of World War I took him away from his studies. He came to the United States in 1920. He was working as a teller in a New York City bank in 1923 when he met Robert Ripley, who was in the process of expanding his syndicated Believe It or Not! newspaper panel from sports trivia to general interest and was looking for someone who could read foreign journals. Pearlroth was fluent in 14 languages, and an avid reader of foreign publications, and he had an unusual memory for miscellany.
As Ripley's sole researcher, he worked ten hours a day, six (sometimes seven) days a week at the New York Public Library's Main Reading Room. The library estimated that Pearlroth examined some 7,000 books every year. "Everyone has always believed that all of this information was found wandering the world," said Pearlroth's son, Arthur. "But it was really found on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue at the Main Library."
Each morning, Pearlroth left his home in Brooklyn, where he lived with his wife, Susan, and two children, and took the subway into Manhattan. He worked at his office until noon, answering some of the 3000 letters that arrived each week from readers all over the world. "The readers always had some argument with me," he said, but claimed he was wrong only once—about a man named Seaborn who he said was born at sea. (He was actually born aboard a ship at anchor in a harbor.) He never ate lunch; at noon he headed to the library, where he worked through the afternoon and evening, taking half an hour for dinner, returning home when the library closed at 10pm. He sometimes worked on Sundays if he fell behind in locating items. His deadline was on Friday, and he always worked several weeks in advance. This routine continued for 26 years, interrupted only when he accompanied Ripley on several of his exotic and highly publicized world journeys.
By the 1940s, Believe It or Not! had approximately 80 million readers worldwide. After Ripley's death on May 27, 1949, King Features Syndicate purchased the rights to the panel, and Pearlroth continued researching it for another 26 years, contributing exactly 24 items each week. He worked virtually without recognition for 52 years, although he is credited as "Research Director" in Ripley's Believe It or Not! 50th Anniversary Edition. He also wrote a weekly column, "Your Name", for the Jewish Post of New York, answering reader inquiries about the origins of Jewish surnames.
Although Pearlroth never missed a deadline, King Features replaced him in 1975. Even after his forced retirement, he continued to contribute items as a freelancer, despite receiving no pension nor any royalties from any of the popular Believe It or Not! books. (Ripley left Pearlroth a personal bequest of $5,000 and paid for his son’s schooling.)
- "Norbert Pearlroth, 89, Researcher For 52 Years For 'Believe It Or Not'". New York Times. April 15, 1983. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
Norbert Pearlroth, who combed hundreds of thousands of books in the New York Public Library over 52 years as sole researcher for Ripley's Believe It or Not, died of heart and kidney diseases Thursday at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn. He was 89 years old and lived in Brooklyn. ...
- "Fun Facts", New York Public Library.
- Norbert Pearlroth is a fount of knowledge-believe it or not. Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1979, section 1B, pp. 11-12. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
- Lydon, Susan. "In Search of the (Nearly) Miraculous," Village Voice, October 22, 1979.
- Ripley, R. Ripley's Believe It or Not 50th Anniversary Edition. Pocket Books (1968). ASIN: B000HUEJXW.
- Glenn, L. "Believe It or Not!" Boss Magazine, summer 2012, pp. 6-7. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
- St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
- "Died". Time magazine. April 25, 1983. Retrieved 2015-01-11.