Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

P. T. Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891), American showman is best remembered for his entertaining hoaxes and for founding the circus that eventually became Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Barnum tried to retire from show business in 1855, but soon had to reenter the business to pay off debts. In 1871, Dan Castello and William C. Coup persuaded Barnum to lend his famous name and financial backing to the circus they had already created in Delavan, Wisconsin. Thus, was created "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome", which was the true beginning of the continuous run of the current incarnation of the circus. He soon added "The Greatest Show on Earth" as a subtitle to his show.

James Anthony Bailey had teamed with James E. Cooper to create the Cooper and Bailey Circus in the 1860s. Bailey's circus was soon Barnum's chief competitor. Bailey was the first to display an electric light in 1879, a year before Thomas Edison patented it. He also exhibited "Little Columbia," the first baby elephant ever born in an American circus.

Barnum wanted to buy the elephant, but Bailey turned him down. Instead of continuing as competitors, each man recognized the showmanship of the other, and decided to combine their shows in 1881. The combined show enjoyed great success with acts such as the world's largest elephant, Jumbo in 1882.

Barnum died in 1891. Bailey purchased the circus from his widow. He ran many successful tours through the eastern United States until he took his circus to Europe where, on December 27, 1897, he began a tour across the continent that lasted through 1902.

Bailey's European tour gave the Ringling brothers an opportunity to move their show from the Midwest through the eastern seaboard. Faced with the new competition, Bailey took his show west of the Rockies for the first time in 1905. He died the next year and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers a year later.

The humble beginnings of the Ringling brothers can be traced to a small circus that five of them started in 1884, about the same time that Barnum and Bailey were at the peak of their popularity. Similar to dozens of small circuses that toured the Midwest and the Northeast at the time, the Ringlings moved their circus from town to town in small animal-drawn caravans. Their circus rapidly grew into one of the largest at the time and they were soon able to move their circus by train, which enabled them to create the largest traveling show of their time.

The Ringlings purchased the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1907 and ran the circuses separately until 1919. By that time, Charles Ringling and John Ringling were the only remaining brothers of the seven who founded the circus and they decided that it was too difficult to run the two circuses independently. So on March 29, 1919, the "Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus" debuted at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The posters declared, "The Ringling Brothers World's Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth are now combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions." Charles Ringling died in 1926.

The circus was a resounding success through the "Roaring 20s", making John Ringling one of the richest men in the world.

The circus suffered during the 1930s because of the Great Depression, but managed to stay in business. John Ringling's nephew, John Ringling North, managed the circus through these difficult times for several decades. Special dispensation was given to the circus by President Roosevelt to use the rails to operate in 1942, in spite of travel restrictions imposed as a result of World War II.

The post-war prosperity enjoyed by the rest of the nation was not shared by the circus as crowds dwindled and costs increased. Finally, public tastes were changed by influences of the movies and television and the circus gave its last performance under the big top in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 16, 1956. An article in LIFE magazine said that "a magical era had passed forever" and it looked as if the circus had no more life in it.

Irvin Feld had already made a name for himself in the rock 'n roll tour production industry with his brother Israel. in 1957, when John Ringling North and Arthur Concello moved the circus from a tent show to an indoor operation, Feld was one of several promoters hired to work the advance for select dates, most in the Detroit and Philadelphia areas. In the fall of 1967, he, his brother Israel Feld, and Judge Roy Hofheinz of Texas, bought the company outright from North and the Ringling family interests.

He immediately began making other changes to improve the quality and profitability of the show. In 1968, realizing there were only 14 professional clowns remaining in the show — and that many of them were in their 50s — he established the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.

The next year, he effectively doubled the impact of the show by splitting it into two touring units, a "Red Tour" and a "Blue Tour".

In 1970, Feld's only son, Kenneth, joined the company and quickly became a co-producer of the shows. The Feld family sold the circus to the Mattel company in 1971, but retained production control. They bought it back in 1982. Irvin Feld died in 1984 and the company has since been run by Kenneth.

In 1996, Feld Entertainment, Inc. was created as the parent company of the circus, as well as, Disney on Ice. The company also produces several large-scale Broadway and Las Vegas productions.

Currently, the circus travels in two trains, the Blue Tour and the Red Tour; as well as the truck-based Gold Tour. Each train consists of cars that stretch approximately one mile in length. The Blue and Red Tours present a full three-ring production for two years each (taking the month of December off), visiting alternating major cities each year. Each train presents a different "edition" of the show, using a numbering scheme that dates back to circus origins in 1871. The Blue Tour presents the even-numbered editions and the Red Tour presents the odd-numbered editions. The Gold Tour presents a scaled-back one-ring version of the show to smaller markets.

In 2006, for the 136th edition, the Blue Tour started with an entirely new format. This is the first major change in fifty years, since the circus moved from traveling tents to indoor arenas. The new edition has met with decidedly mixed reviews. Gone are the tigers, tight rope walkers, families swinging through the air, and the three rings have been replaced by a single oval. The performance is now portrayed as through the eyes of an average American "family" pulled from the audience, who are in reality, actors. By the end of the show, the mom is a glamorous trapeze artist, the dad is a ringmaster, the teenage daughter a circus dancer, and the young son a foot-juggler. The blue tour is the newest. The red and gold tours likely will be getting their overhauls to the new format next year.

The Hartford Circus Fire, which occurred on July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. The fire occurred during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that was attended by approximately 7,500 to 8,700 people. The image seared into the public's brain of the fire was that of Emmett Kelly, the great tramp clown, throwing a bucket of water at the burning canvas tent in a futile effort to put the fire out.

More than 100 people were killed. The great irony of the fire was that the performance took place under canvas. Had the crowd but realized it, safety was no farther away than ducking out under the sidewalls of the tent. Some of the dead remain unidentified to this day, even with modern DNA techniques.

One fact that came out in the investigation into the tragedy was that the tent had not been fireproofed. Ringling Brothers had applied to the Army, which had an absolute priority on the material, for enough fireproofing liquid to treat their Big Top. The Army had refused to release it to them. Despite this, the circus' management was found to be negligent and several Ringling executives served sentences in jail in connection with the Hartford Circus Fire.

Many claims were brought against The Greatest Show on Earth in connection with the fire. Ringling Brothers set aside all their profits for the next ten years to pay off these claims and paid off every claim in full.

The circus is frequently campaigned against by animal-rights organizations such as PETA, which alleges that animals are subjected to brutal treatments and lack of mental and physical stimulation while in its custody. Such organizations frequently stage large protests against the circus.

In 1995, the circus opened the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida for the breeding, research, and retirement of its Asian Elephant herd.

All dogs in the shows were rescued from animal shelters.

The circus participates in breeding programs for endangered species used in the shows including the Bengal tiger and elephant. The tiger population is retired to Big Cat Rescue.

The circus went under various names as new investors joined

* P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome; P. T. Barnum, William Cameron Coup and Dan Castello, proprietors (1871)
* P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling World's Fair; The Greatest Shows On Earth; P. T. Barnum, William Cameron Coup, Dan Castello and S. H. Hurd, proprietors
* P. T. Barnum's Great Roman Hippodrome; P. T. Barnum, William Cameron Coup, Dan Castello and S. H. Hurd, proprietors
* P. T. Barnum's Greatest Show On Earth; P. T. Barnum, John J. Nathans, George F. Bailey and Lewis June, proprietors (and Avery Smith for part of 1876 only)
* Barnum & Bailey Circus; James Anthony Bailey (1891)
* Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus


* 1871 P. T. Barnum's "Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" created with William Cameron Coup
* 1875 (circa) James Anthony Bailey starts his circus
* 1881 James Anthony Bailey and P.T. Barnum combine to form "Barnum and Bailey Circus"
* 1884 John Ringling starts Ringling Brothers Circus
* 1891 Death of P. T. Barnum
* 1891 James Anthony Bailey buys Barnum assets from Barnum's widow
* 1906 Death of James Anthony Bailey
* 1907 The Ringling Brothers Circus purchases the "Barnum and Bailey Circus"
* 1919 John Ringling merges the two into "Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus"
* 1944 Hartford Circus Fire
* 1967 Irvin Feld and Israel Feld and Roy M. Hofheinz buy the circus from the Ringlings


* Darrin Dewitt Henson, an actor and choreographer, was once in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after he finished high school.

* In the fantasy novel Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is shown buying dinosaurs from dinosaur circus, Circus Lothar.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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