Ringling Brothers Circus
The Ringling Brothers Circus was a circus founded in the United States in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling Brothers: Albert (1852–1916), August (1854–1907), Otto (1858–1911), Alfred T. (1862–1919), Charles (1863–1926), John (1866–1936), and Henry (1869–1918). In 1907 it acquired the Barnum & Bailey Circus, merging them in 1919 to become Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, promoted as The Greatest Show on Earth.
In 1882, before the Ringling Brothers created their first circus, the 5 brothers performed skits and juggling routines in town halls around the state of Wisconsin. They called this the "Ringling Brothers' Classic and Comic Concert Company" and used the money earned for suits. The Ringling Brothers Circus began their first circus in 1884 in Baraboo, Wisconsin and united with a famous showman named Yankee Robinson. Using the title "Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers", the Ringling Bros. and Yankee Robinson went through the midwest performing their one ring circus. The season went well for the Ringling Brothers, but unfortunately, Yankee Robinson died in Jefferson, Iowa on September 4th, 1884, before the circus season ended.
By the late 1880s, however, the circus had established itself as one of the largest and best-run circuses in the country. Each of the brothers had their own jobs to do each day- Alfred publicized the circus, Gus arranged advertising, placing posters of animals and bright colors several days before the circus came, Al picked the acts, Charles produced the show, Otto was the treasurer, and John supervised transportation. Even though some jobs may have been harder than others, the Ringlings always split the money they earned equally. When they ran another circus season in 1887, true to the typical hyperbole of the day, the official title of the circus was called "Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals".
In 1889 two of the Ringlings went to Philadelphia where they purchased railroad cars and parade equipment from Adam Forepaugh, a venerable showman with a show on the road since 1864. With this change in transportation the circus was no longer limited to moving only 15 to 20 miles a night, and could now skip the really small towns that contained a limited audience in order to play larger towns day after day, therefore, greatly increasing the average revenue.
In 1907 the brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus and ran the two circuses separately until they merged them into one unit in 1919, when they also moved the winter quarters to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
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- Ringling Collection of images of 19th century American and British actors and actresses – Open access digital collection