P.T. Barnum and the Greatest Show on Earth

Phineas Taylor Barnum was born on July 5, 1810 in Bethel Connecticut to a shop keeper and his wife. P.T. was one of 10 children in the Barnum household. Young P.T. Barnum began his working career in his teens working as a shop keeper and found that he enjoyed haggling with people, and quite often used deception to make sales. His early work as shop keeper would be the training ground for his later career in show business.

P.T. Barnum began his career dabbling in several different professions. Barnum at a young age was active in a general store, a book auctioning trade, real estate speculation, and a state-wide lottery network in Connecticut. In 1834, the state of Connecticut banned lottery games, so he sold his business interests and moved to New York City. In 1835, he began a long career as a showman, when he first began managing an elderly slave woman who was purported to be a 160 year old former nurse of George Washington.

Over the next several years Barnum continued to promote various acts around the world. Some of the acts that Barnum was associated with were General Tom Thumb who Barnum claimed to be the world’s shortest person (he was actually 4 and not 11 that Barnum claimed), singer Jenny Lind and several other acts that performed in his shows. Using his flair for showmanship, promotion and deception, Barnum set up the P.T. Barnum American Museum, which was an odd combination of attractions (i.e. Tom Thumb, Fejee Mermaid, etc...) to educational exhibits which included animals, paintings and memorabilia. The American Museum operated until a fire in 1865. After re-opening in a different location, a second fire in 1868 closed down the museum permanently.

In 1871 at the age of 61, Barnum established his first traveling circus. The "P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" was a unique mix of animals, typical circus acts and freaks of the sideshows. Barnum felt that he provided entertainment for everyone and billed his new circus as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1881 for a short time, and then permanently in 1888, Barnum teamed up with James Bailey, and together formed the Barnum and Bailey Circus, which they promoted as “Greatest Show on Earth.” The circus continues today as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

On April 7, 1891, Barnum passed away at the age of 81 in his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During the 81 years of his life Barnum was a consummate showman who knew what people wanted, and also know how to give it to them at a price they would pay. During his lifetime, Barnum was a very wealthy man with several houses and acquired fortune. But, Barnum was also a very generous man, giving money to many charitable organizations. However, the reputation that Barnum earned was that of one of the finest showmen in history. For more information on the life of Barnum, we have collected several resourceful websites:

·       The Barnum Museum

·       Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus History

·       Barnum’s American Museum

·       The Life of Phineas T. Barnum

·       P.T. Barnum Biography

·       Barnum’s Philanthropic Work

·       Works by P.T. Barnum

·       Barnum Museum Archive

·       P.T. Barnum Biography

·       Circus in America

·       Barnum Circus Routes

·       The Greatest Show on Earth

·       Career of P.T. Barnum

·       Phineas T. Barnum Photos

·       Barnum & Jenny Lind

·       Barnum & Tom Thumb