Circus Ring of Fame Wheel Plaque

Phineas Taylor Barnum

Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 1991

Circus Profession: Impressario, Circus Owner, Inventor of Pop Culture

Born: 1810

Died: 1891

P.T. Barnum Circus Ring Of Fame Foundation inductee plaque

P.T. Barnum
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Phineas Taylor Barnum ( /ˈbɑːrnəm/ ; July 5, 1810 – April 7,
1891) was an American showman, politician, and businessman remembered for
promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey
Circus (1871–2017). [1] He was also an author, publisher, and
philanthropist, though he said of himself: “I am a showman by
profession … and all the gilding shall make nothing else of
me”. [2] According to his critics, his personal aim was “to put
money in his own coffers.” [2] He is widely credited with coining the
adage ” There’s a sucker born every minute “, [3] although no proof
can be found of him saying this.
Barnum became a small business owner in his early twenties and founded a
weekly newspaper before moving to New York City in 1834. He embarked on an
entertainment career, first with a variety troupe called “Barnum’s Grand
Scientific and Musical Theater”, and soon after by purchasing Scudder’s
American Museum which he renamed after himself. He used the museum as a
platform to promote hoaxes and human curiosities such as the Fiji mermaid and
General Tom Thumb . [4] In 1850, he promoted the American tour of Swedish
opera singer Jenny Lind , paying her an unprecedented $1,000 a night for 150
nights. He suffered economic reversals in the 1850s due to bad investments,
as well as years of litigation and public humiliation , but he used a lecture
tour as a temperance speaker to emerge from debt. His museum added America’s
first aquarium and expanded the wax-figure department.
Barnum served two terms in the Connecticut legislature in 1865 as a
Republican for Fairfield, Connecticut . He spoke before the legislature
concerning the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude: “A human
soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with.
It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a
Hottentot—it is still an immortal spirit”. [5] He was elected
in 1875 as mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut where he worked to improve the
water supply, bring gas lighting to streets, and enforce liquor and
prostitution laws. He was also instrumental in starting Bridgeport Hospital
in 1878 and was its first president. [6] Nevertheless, the circus business,
begun when he was 60 years old, was the source of much of his enduring fame.
He established “P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie,
Caravan & Hippodrome” in 1870, a traveling circus, menagerie,
and museum of “freaks” which adopted many names over the years.

Barnum was married to Charity Hallett from 1829 until her death in 1873,
and they had four children. In 1874, a few months after his wife’s death, he
married Nancy Fish , his friend’s daughter who was 40 years his junior. They
were married until 1891 when Barnum died of a stroke at his home. He was
buried in Mountain Grove Cemetery, Bridgeport , which he designed himself.
Early life
Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut , the son of innkeeper, tailor, and
store-keeper Philo Barnum (1778–1826) and his second wife Irene
Taylor. His maternal grandfather Phineas Taylor was a Whig , legislator,
landowner, justice of the peace, and lottery schemer who had a great
influence on him.
Barnum had several businesses over the years, including a general store, a
book auctioning trade, real estate speculation, and a statewide lottery
network. He started a weekly newspaper in 1829 called The Herald of Freedom
in Danbury, Connecticut . His editorials against the elders of local churches
led to libel suits and a prosecution which resulted in imprisonment for two
months, but he became a champion of the liberal movement upon his release. [
citation needed ] He sold his store in 1834.
He began his career as a showman in 1835 when he was 25 with the purchase
and exhibition of a blind and almost completely paralyzed slave woman named
Joice Heth , whom an acquaintance was trumpeting around Philadelphia as
George Washington ‘s former nurse and 161 years old. Slavery was already
outlawed in New York, but he exploited a loophole which allowed him to lease
her for a year for $1,000, borrowing $500 to complete the sale. Heth died in
February 1836, at no more than 80 years old. Barnum had worked her for 10 to
12 hours a day, and he hosted a live autopsy of her body in a New York saloon
where spectators paid 50 cents to see the dead woman cut up, as he revealed
that she was likely half her purported age. [8] [9]
The Fairy Wedding group, Charles S. Stratton (“General Tom
Thumb”) and his bride Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, alongside her sister
Huldah Pierce Warren Bump (“Minnie Warren”) and George Washington
Morrison (“Commodore”) Nutt, entertainers associated with P.T.
Barnum, in wedding clothes. From the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil
War Photographs, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Barnum had a year of mixed success with his first variety troupe called
“Barnum’s Grand Scientific and Musical Theater”, followed by the
Panic of 1837 and three years of difficult circumstances. He purchased
Scudder’s American Museum in 1841, located at Broadway and Ann Street , New
York City. He improved the attraction, upgrading the building and adding
exhibits, then renamed it “Barnum’s American Museum”; it became a
popular showplace. He added a lighthouse lamp which attracted attention up
and down Broadway and flags along the roof’s edge that attracted attention in
daytime, while giant paintings of animals between the upper windows drew
attention from pedestrians. The roof was transformed to a strolling garden
with a view of the city, where he launched hot-air balloon rides daily. A
changing series of live acts and curiosities were added to the exhibits of
stuffed animals , including albinos , giants , little people , jugglers ,
magicians , exotic women, detailed models of cities and famous battles, and a
menagerie of animals.
Fiji mermaid and Tom Thumb
1866 newspaper advertisement for Barnum’s American Museum located on Ann
Street in Manhattan
In 1842, Barnum introduced his first major hoax: a creature with the body
of a monkey and the tail of a fish known as the “Feejee” mermaid .
He leased it from fellow museum owner Moses Kimball of Boston who became his
friend, confidant, and collaborator. [10] [11] Barnum justified his hoaxes by
saying that they were advertisements to draw attention to the museum. “I
don’t believe in duping the public”, he said, “but I believe in
first attracting and then pleasing them.” [12]
He followed the mermaid by exhibiting Charles Stratton, the little person
called ” General Tom Thumb ” (“the Smallest Person that ever
Walked Alone”) who was then four years old but was stated to be 11. With
heavy coaching and natural talent, the boy was taught to imitate people from
Hercules to Napoleon. He was drinking wine by age five and smoking cigars by
age seven for the public’s amusement.
In 1843, Barnum hired the Native American dancer fu-Hum-Me, the first of
many First Nations people whom he presented. During 1844–45, he
toured with General Tom Thumb in Europe and met Queen Victoria , who was
amused [13] but saddened by the little man, and the event was a publicity
coup. It opened the door to visits from royalty throughout Europe, including
the Tzar of Russia , and enabled Barnum to acquire dozens of new attractions,
including automatons and other mechanical marvels. During this time, he went
on a spending spree and bought other museums, including artist Rembrandt
Peale ‘s Museum in Philadelphia, [14] the nation’s first major museum. By
late 1846, Barnum’s Museum was drawing 400,000 visitors a year. [4]
Jenny Lind
Castle Garden , New York, venue of Lind’s first American concerts
Barnum became aware of the popularity of Jenny Lind , the “Swedish
Nightingale”, during his European tour with Tom Thumb when her career
was at its height in Europe. Barnum had never heard her and conceded to being
unmusical himself, [15] but he approached her to sing in America at $1,000 a
night for 150 nights, all expenses paid by him. [16] He was confident that he
could make use of Lind’s reputation for morality and philanthropy in his
publicity. [15]
Lind demanded the fee in advance and Barnum agreed; this permitted her to
raise a fund for charities, principally endowing schools for poor children in
Sweden. [17] Barnum borrowed heavily on his mansion and his museum to raise
the money to pay Lind [16] but he was still short of funds; so he persuaded a
Philadelphia minister that Lind would be a good influence on American morals,
and the minister lent him the final $5,000. The contract also gave Lind the
option of withdrawing from the tour after 60 or 100 performances, paying
Barnum $25,000 if she did so. [17] Lind and her small company sailed to
America in September 1850, but she was a celebrity even before she arrived
because of Barnum’s months of preparations; close to 40,000 people greeted
her at the docks and another 20,000 at her hotel. The press was also in
attendance, and “Jenny Lind items” were available to buy. [18] When
she realized how much money Barnum stood to make from the tour, she insisted
on a new agreement which he signed on September 3, 1850. This gave her the
original fee plus the remainder of each concert’s profits after Barnum’s
$5,500 management fee. She was determined to accumulate as much money as
possible for her charities. [15]
The tour began with a concert at Castle Garden on September 11, 1850, and
it was a major success, recouping Barnum four times his investment.
Washington Irving proclaimed, “She is enough to counterbalance, of
herself, all the evil that the world is threatened with by the great
convention of women. So God save Jenny Lind!” [18] Tickets for some of
her concerts were in such demand that Barnum sold them by auction, and public
enthusiasm was so strong that the press coined the term “Lind
mania”. [19] The blatant commercialism of Barnum’s ticket auctions
distressed Lind, [19] and she persuaded him to make a substantial number of
tickets available at reduced prices. [20]
On the tour, Barnum’s publicity always preceded Lind’s arrival and whipped
up enthusiasm; he had up to 26 journalists on his payroll. [21] After New
York, the company toured the east coast with continued success, and later
went through the southern states and Cuba. By early 1851, Lind had become
uncomfortable with Barnum’s relentless marketing of the tour, and she invoked
a contractual right to sever her ties with him. They parted amicably, and she
continued the tour for nearly a year under her own management. [15] Lind gave
93 concerts in America for Barnum, earning her about $350,000, while Barnum
netted at least $500,000 (equivalent to $15,366,000 in 2019). [22]
Diversified leisure-time activities
Barnum’s next challenge was to change public attitudes about the theater
which was widely seen as a “den of evil”. He wanted to position
theaters as palaces of edification and delight, and as respectable
middle-class entertainment. He built New York City’s largest and most modern
theater, naming it the “Moral Lecture Room.” He hoped that this
would avoid seedy connotations, attract a family crowd, and win the approval
of the moral crusaders of New York City. He started the nation’s first
theatrical matinées to encourage families and to lessen the fear
of crime. He opened with The Drunkard , a thinly disguised temperance lecture
(he had become a teetotaler after returning from Europe). He followed that
with melodramas, farces, and historical plays put on by highly regarded
actors. He watered down Shakespearean plays and others such as Uncle Tom’s
Cabin to make them family entertainment. [ citation needed ]
He organized flower shows, beauty contests, dog shows, and poultry
contests, but the most popular were baby contests such as the fattest baby or
the handsomest twins. In 1853, he started the pictorial weekly newspaper
Illustrated News ; he completed his autobiography a year later which sold
more than a million copies over the course of numerous revisions. Mark Twain
loved the book, but the British Examiner thought it “trashy” and
“offensive” and wrote that it inspired “nothing but sensations
of disgust” and “sincere pity for the wretched man who compiled
it”. [23]
In the early 1850s, Barnum began investing to develop East Bridgeport,
Connecticut. He made substantial loans to the Jerome Clock Company to get it
to move to his new industrial area, but the company went bankrupt by 1856,
taking Barnum’s wealth with it. This started four years of litigation and
public humiliation. Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed that Barnum’s downfall
showed “the gods visible again” and other critics celebrated
Barnum’s public dilemma. But Tom Thumb offered his services, as he was
touring on his own, and the two undertook another European tour. Barnum also
started a lecture tour, mostly as a temperance speaker. By 1860, he emerged
from debt and built a mansion which he called “Lindencroft”, and he
resumed ownership of his museum.
Barnum with Commodore Nutt , photograph by Charles DeForest Fredricks

Barnum went on to create America’s first aquarium and to expand the wax
figure department of his museum. His “Seven Grand Salons”
demonstrated the Seven Wonders of the World. The collections expanded to four
buildings, and he published a “Guide Book to the Museum” which
claimed 850,000 “curiosities”. [24] Late in 1860, Siamese Twins
Chang and Eng came out of retirement because they needed more money to send
their numerous children to college. They had a touring career on their own
and went to live on a North Carolina plantation with their families and
slaves under the name of Bunker. They also appeared at Barnum’s Museum for
six weeks. Also in 1860, Barnum introduced “man-monkey” William
Henry Johnson, a microcephalic black little person who spoke a mysterious
language created by Barnum. In 1862, he discovered giantess Anna Swan and
Commodore Nutt , a new Tom Thumb with whom Barnum visited President Abraham
Lincoln at the White House. During the Civil War , his museum drew large
audiences seeking diversion from the conflict. He added pro-Unionist
exhibits, lectures, and dramas, and he demonstrated commitment to the cause.
He hired Pauline Cushman in 1864, an actress who had served as a spy for the
Union, to lecture about her “thrilling adventures” behind
Confederate lines. Barnum’s Unionist sympathies incited a Confederate
sympathizer to start a fire in 1864. Barnum’s American Museum burned to the
ground on July 13, 1865 from a fire of unknown origin. Barnum re-established
it at another location in New York City, but this also was destroyed by fire
in March 1868. The loss was too great the second time, and Barnum retired
from the museum business.
Circus King
Share of the Barnum and Bailey Ltd, issued 24. January 1902
Barnum did not enter the circus business until he was 60 years old. He
established “P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan
& Hippodrome ” in Delavan, Wisconsin , in 1870 with William
Cameron Coup ; it was a traveling circus, menagerie, and museum of
“freaks”. It went through various names: “P. T. Barnum’s
Travelling World’s Fair, Great Roman Hippodrome and Greatest Show on
Earth”, and “P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, And The Great
London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International
Allied Shows United” after an 1881 merger with James Bailey and James L.
Hutchinson, soon shortened to “Barnum & Bailey’s”. This
entertainment phenomenon was the first circus to display three rings. [25]
The show’s first primary attraction was Jumbo , an African elephant that
Barnum purchased in 1882 from the London Zoo . The Barnum and Bailey Circus
still contained acts similar to his Traveling Menagerie, including acrobats,
freak shows, and General Tom Thumb. Barnum persisted in growing the circus in
spite of more fires, train disasters, and other setbacks, and he was aided by
circus professionals who ran the daily operations. He and Bailey split up in
1885, but they came back together in 1888 with the “Barnum &
Bailey Greatest Show On Earth”, later ” Barnum & Bailey
Circus ” which toured the world.
Barnum became known as the “Shakespeare of Advertising” due to
his innovative and impressive ideas. [26]
Author and debunker
Barnum was often referred to as the “Prince of Humbugs”, and he
saw nothing wrong in entertainers or vendors using hoaxes (or
“humbug”, as he termed it) in promotional material, as long as the
public was getting value for money. However, he was contemptuous of those who
made money through fraud, especially the spiritualist mediums popular in his
day; he testified against noted “spirit photographer” William H.
Mumler in his trial for fraud, and he exposed “the tricks of the
trade” used by mediums to cheat the bereaved. In The Humbugs of the
World , he offered $500 to any medium who could prove power to communicate
with the dead.
Role in politics
Barnum was significantly involved in politics. He mainly focused on race,
slavery, and sectionalism in the period leading up to the American Civil War
. He opposed the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, which supported
slavery, so he left the Democratic Party which endorsed slavery and became
part of the new anti-slavery Republican Party.
Barnum claimed that “politics were always distasteful to me”, yet
he was elected to the Connecticut legislature in 1865 as Republican
representative for Fairfield and served four terms. [28] [29] He hired spies
to get insider information on the New York and New Haven Railroad lines and
exposed a secret that would raise fares by 20 percent. [ citation needed ] [
vague ] He said during the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution : “A human soul, ‘that God has created and
Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a
Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot—it is still an immortal
spirit.” [28] He also acknowledged that he had owned slaves when he
lived in the South. “I whipped my slaves. I ought to have been whipped a
thousand times for this myself. But then I was a Democrat—one of
those nondescript Democrats, who are Northern men with Southern
principles”. [30]
Barnum was elected for the next four Congresses and succeeded Senator Orris
S. Ferry . He was the legislative sponsor of a law enacted by the Connecticut
General Assembly in 1879 which prohibited the use of “any drug,
medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing
conception”, and also made it a crime to act as an accessory to the use
of contraception; this law which remained in effect in Connecticut until it
was overturned in 1965 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut .
[31] [32] He ran for Congress in 1867 and lost to his third cousin William
Henry Barnum . In 1875, he worked as mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut to
improve the water supply, bring gas lighting to streets, and enforce liquor
and prostitution laws. He was instrumental in starting Bridgeport Hospital ,
founded in 1878, and was its first president. [6]
Profitable philanthropy
Barnum enjoyed what he publicly dubbed “profitable philanthropy”.
“If by improving and beautifying our city Bridgeport, Connecticut, and
adding to the pleasure and prosperity of my neighbors, I can do so at a
profit, the incentive to ‘good works’ will be twice as strong as if it were
otherwise.” [33] He was appointed to the Board of Trustees to Tufts University
prior to its founding, and he made several significant contributions to the
fledgling institution, including a gift of $50,000 (equivalent to $1,371,964
in 2019) in 1883 to establish a museum (later known as Barnum Museum of
Natural History ) and hall for the Department of Natural History. [34] Tufts
made Jumbo the elephant the school’s mascot, and Tufts students are known as
“Jumbos”. [35]
Personal life and death
On November 8, 1829, Barnum married Charity Hallett, [36] and they had four
children: Caroline Cornelia (1830–1911), Helen Maria
(1840–1920), Frances Irena (1842–1844), and Pauline
Taylor (1846–1877). [37] His wife died on November 19, 1873, [37]
and he married Nancy Fish the following year, the daughter of his close
friend John Fish who was 40 years younger than him. [38]
Barnum died from a stroke at home in 1891. [29] He is buried in Mountain
Grove Cemetery, Bridgeport , Connecticut , a cemetery that he designed. [7]