Acts over the years have included:
- plate spinning
- human cannonball
- fire eating , breathing and dancing
- knife throwing
- magic shows
- sword swallowing
“P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome.”
In 1875, Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup convinced Barnum to lend his name and financial backing to the circus they had already created in Delavan, Wisconsin . It was called “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome”. The nickname “Greatest Show on Earth” was added later.
Separate from Castello and Coup, James Anthony Bailey had teamed up with James E. Cooper to create the Cooper and Bailey Circus in the 1860s. The Cooper and Bailey Circus was soon Barnum’s chief competitor, displaying “Columbia”, the first baby elephant ever born in the United States.
“Columbia” was born in March 1880 in Philadelphia, to “Babe” and “Mandarin”. Barnum tried to buy the elephant, and finally agreed to combine their shows in 1881.
The world’s largest elephant
In 1882, the combined “Barnum & Bailey Circus” was successful with acts such as Jumbo, advertised as the world’s largest elephant. Barnum died in 1891 and Bailey then bought the circus from his widow.
Bailey continued touring the eastern United States until he took his circus to Europe. That tour started on December 27, 1897 and lasted until 1902.
In 1884, five of the seven Ringling brothers had started a small circus about the same time that Barnum & Bailey were at the peak of their fame. Like 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.
Largest traveling amusement enterprise
The Ringlings’ circus rapidly grew and they were soon able to move their circus by train, which let them to have the largest traveling amusement business of that time. Bailey’s European tour gave the Ringling brothers a chance to move their show from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard.
Faced with the new competition, Bailey took his show west of the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 1905. He died the next year and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers.
The Ringling brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907
They ran the circuses separately until they were finally combined in 1919.