Circus Ring of Fame Wheel Plaque

William Hanford (Cap) Curtis

Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 1984

Circus Profession: Canvasman and General Supeintendent of Operations

Born: 1873

Died: 1934

William Cap Curtis Circus Ring Of Fame Foundation inductee

“Cap” Curtis gained fame in the circus business for being the first person to move circus wagons with a motor vehicle and in 1910 he first built the Curtis patent seat wagon. These were in general use for about 15 years. During the time that he was with the Hagenbeck Wallace show he perfected and put into use the Curtis spool wagons for rolling the big top. The last circus he was with was Cole Bros. in 1950 but he trouped as a lot superintendent with Royal American Shows in 1952. His last work with the Big Top was as boss canvassman when a Pennsylvania city borrowed a Ringling tent to house a Birthday Party for President Eisenhower in September, 1953. Bandwagon, April, 1955, p. 3. Information should be checked with additional sources

William Hanford “Cap” Curtis, born December 10, 1873 on a farm near Hazelhurst, Mississippi began his circus career with the Andress (or Andrews) Circus about 1889. Beginning with titles such as superintendent of canvas, lot superintendent and general superintendent he soon became well known for his extraordinary qualities as a man of indomitable spirit, great courage and resourcefulness. An outstanding example of a typical American circus executive, “Cap” set foot on circus lots all over the United States. A man with an inventive turn of mind, “Cap” contributed much to the safety, stability and security of circuses during their development in the early twentieth century. While with the John Robinson Circus from 1902 to 1907 he designed a cable truss system to hold seat stringers firmly in place which soon come into general use by other canvasmen when they realized its advantages.

As superintendent of canvas for the Sells-Floto Circus in 1915 he was granted United States patent number 1184672 for his canvas spool-wagon, a new system of handling the tent which saved time getting off the lot and made it easier to spread the canvas the following day when the tent was put up. Still with Sells-Floto, “Cap” become the first man to use a tractor on the lot. From 1917 to 1926, as boss canvasman and general superintendent on the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, he designed and developed a group of folding seat wagons which were patented in 1919 and used for many years. William Hanford “Cap” Curtis died April 9, 1955 near Cuevas, Mississippi. His ideas and inventions will always live with the big top. “Elected to Circus Hall of Fame,” Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1961, p. 22.