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This article is about the historic elephant. For other uses, see Jumbo (disambiguation).
Jumbo poster 1.jpg
Jumbo and his keeper Matthew Scott
(Circus poster, ca. 1882)
Species African elephant
Sex Male
Born Christmas 1860
East Africa
Died September 15, 1885(1885-09-15) (aged 24)
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Resting place Various
Occupation Zoo and circus attraction
Years active 1862-1885 in captivity
Owner Jardin des Plantes
London Zoo
P. T. Barnum
Weight 13,000 pounds (5,900 kg)
Height 13 ft 1 in (3.99 m) as promoted by Barnum
Cause of death Railway accident

Jumbo (1861 – September 15, 1885), also known as Jumbo the Elephant and Jumbo the Circus Elephant, was a 19th-century male African Bush Elephant born in the Sudan. Jumbo was eventually exported to Jardin des Plantes, a zoo in Paris, France; and then transferred in 1865 to London Zoo in England. Jumbo was sold to P. T. Barnum, who took him to America for exhibition in March 1882.

The giant elephant's name has spawned the common word, "jumbo", meaning large in size.[1] Jumbo's height, estimated to be 3.25 metres (10.7 ft) in the London Zoo, was claimed to be approximately 4 metres (13.1 ft) by the time of his death.

Jumbo's legacy lives on as Tufts University's mascot.[2] and is referenced by a plaque outside the old Liberal Hall, now a Wetherspoons pub, in Crediton.[3]


Jumbo was born in 1861 in the Sudan, and after his mother was killed by hunters, the infant Jumbo was captured by Sudanese elephant hunter Taher Sheriff.[3] The calf was sold to Lorenzo Casanova, an Italian animal dealer and explorer. Casanova transported the animals he had bought north from Sudan to Suez, and then across the Mediterranean to Trieste. This collection was sold to Menagerie Gottlieb Kreutzberg in Germany.[4] Soon after, he was imported to France and kept in the Paris zoo Jardin des Plantes. In 1865 he was transferred to the London Zoo, where he became famous for giving rides to visitors, especially children. The London zookeeper association leader Anoshan Anathajeyasri gave Jumbo his name; it is likely a variation of one of two Swahili words: jambo, which means "hello"; or jumbe, meaning "chief".[5]

Jumbo was sold in November 1881 to the Barnum & Bailey Circus for 10,000 dollars ($248 thousand today). There was popular objection when Barnum's proposal became known; 100,000 school children wrote to Queen Victoria begging her not to sell the elephant.[a] In New York, Barnum exhibited the elephant at Madison Square Garden, earning enough from the enormous crowds to recoup the money he spent to buy the animal.[6] On May 30th 1884 Jumbo was one of Barnum's 21 elephants that crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to prove that it was safe after 12 people died during a stampede caused by mass panic over collapse fears a year earlier.[7]

Remaining in the United Kingdom are statues and other memorabilia of Jumbo. The elephant – or rather its statuette in the Natural History Museum – was made holotype of Richard Lydekker's proposed subspecies (Loxodonta africana rothschildi) for the large elephants of the eastern Sahel. Modern authorities do not recognize this (or any other subspecies of African Bush Elephants), considering its purportedly diagnostic large size and peculiarly-shaped ears to be individual variation.


Jumbo after being run over by a locomotive on September 15, 1885 in St. Thomas, Ontario
Surviving fragments of Jumbo from the conflagration[8]

Jumbo died at a railway classification yard in Canada at St. Thomas, Ontario. While out exercising, he tripped and fell on train tracks, impaling himself on his tusk and dying instantly. Shortly after his death, an unexpected locomotive ran over his body.[9] Barnum told the story that he died saving a young circus elephant, Tom Thumb, from being hit by the locomotive, but other witnesses did not support this. The most popular version of the story has the elephant being struck and killed by the locomotive.[10]

Barnum's story says that the younger elephant, Tom Thumb, was on the railroad tracks. Jumbo was walking up to lead him to safety, but an unexpected locomotive hit Tom Thumb, killing him instantly. Because of this, the locomotive derailed and hit Jumbo, killing him too. According to newspaper accounts at the time, the freight train hit Jumbo directly, killing him, while the other elephant suffered a broken leg.[11]

Many metallic objects were found in the elephant's stomach, including English pennies, keys, rivets, and a police whistle.[b]

Ever the showman, Barnum had portions of his star attraction separated, in order to have multiple sites attracting curious spectators. After touring with Barnum's circus,[13] the skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where it remains.[14] The elephant's heart was sold to Cornell University. Jumbo's hide was stuffed by William J. Critchley and Carl Akeley, both of Ward's Natural Science, who stretched it during the mounting process; the mounted specimen traveled with Barnum's circus for two years.[13]

Barnum eventually donated the stuffed Jumbo to Tufts University, where it was displayed at P.T. Barnum Hall there for many years. The hide was destroyed in a fire in April 1975.[14] Ashes from that fire, which are believed to contain the elephant's remains, are kept in a 14-ounce Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter jar in the office of the Tufts athletic director, while his taxidermied tail, removed during earlier renovations, resides in the holdings of the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives.[10]


While Jumbo's hide resided at Tufts' P.T. Barnum Hall, a superstition held that dropping a coin into a nostril of the trunk would bring good luck on an examination or sports event.[2] Although the hide was destroyed by a major fire,[14] Jumbo remains the mascot of Tufts, and representations of the elephant are featured prominently throughout the campus.[2]

Jumbo statue in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada

A life-size statue of the elephant was erected in 1985 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada to commemorate the centennial of the elephant's death. It is located on Talbot Street on the west side of the city. Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas brews "Dead Elephant Ale," an IPA, in recognition of Jumbo's connection to St. Thomas's railway history. In 2006, the Jumbo statue was inducted into the North America Railway Hall of Fame in the category of "Railway Art Forms & Events" as having local significance.[15]

Jumbo has been lionized on a series of sheet music covers from roughly 1882-83. The four color lithograph of Jumbo was created by Alfred Concanen of England, with the music title "Why Part With Jumbo",[c] a song by the lion comique of Victorian British music halls, G. H. MacDermott. It pictured children zoo visitors riding, somewhat precariously, on Jumbo's back. Multiple American lithographic music covers were done, including by J. H. Bufford's Sons.

Canadian folk singer James Gordon wrote the song "Jumbo's Last Ride" which recounts the story of Jumbo's life and death. It is on his 1999 CD Pipe Street Dreams.[17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Elephant War (1960) by Gillian Avery is a historical novel featuring the protest movement based in Oxford.
  2. ^ "A postmortem revealed his stomach to contain 'a hat-full' of English pennies, gold and silver coins, stones, a bunch of keys, lead seals from railway trucks, trinkets of metal and glass, screws, rivets, pieces of wire and a police whistle."[12]
  3. ^ Full title: "Why Part With Jumbo, the Pet of the Zoo"; by: George Barnham (composer); G. H. Macdermott (lyricist); Ernest J. Symons (composer)[16]


  1. ^ "Jumbo (adj.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "Jumbo the Elephant, Tufts' Mascot". Tufts University. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Chambers, Paul (2008). Jumbo the greatest elephant in the world (1st US ed.). Hanover, N.H.: Steerforth Press. p. PT14. ISBN 1586421530. 
  4. ^ "The Life of Jumbo the Elephant" (PDF). St. Thomas Public Library. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  5. ^ "Swahili-English translation for "jumbe"". bab.la Dictionary. 
  6. ^ "Madison Square Garden I" on Ballpark.com
  7. ^ McCullough, David (2012). The Great Bridge : the epic story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Updated ed.). London: Simon & Schuster. pp. 431, 543. ISBN 1451683235. 
  8. ^ Maeda. "A Portion Of Jumbo The Elephant's Tail At Tufts University". Getty Images. Boston Globe. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  9. ^ Major, Sebastian and Morgan, Meaghan (December 13, 2016). "Episode #33 – Who Was The Prince of Humbugs? (Part II)". Our Fake History. 
  10. ^ a b Susan Wilson (Spring 2002). "An Elephant's Tale". Tufts Magazine. 
  11. ^ "Jumbo's Death", The Globe, September 17, 1885, p. 1.
  12. ^ Meredith, Martin (2009). Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa. PublicAffairs. p. 117. ISBN 0786728388. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "Jumbo: From Our Special Collections". University of Rochester Libraries. Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c "The Immolation Of Jumbo", American Heritage, Vol. 26, Issue 6, October 1975.
  15. ^ The North America Railway Hall of Fame | Inductee: The Jumbo Statue
  16. ^ "Why Part With Jumbo, the Pet of the Zoo". Levy Sheet Music Collection. JScholarship. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  17. ^ "Jumbo's Last Ride". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 


  • Chambers, Paul. Jumbo: The Greatest Elephant in the World, Andre Deutsch, 2007. ISBN 978-0-233-00222-4
  • Harding, Les. Elephant Story: Jumbo and P.T. Barnum Under the Big Top. McFarland, 2000. ISBN 0-7864-0632-1
  • Scott, Matthew. The autobiography of Matthew Scott and his biography of P.T. Barnum's great elephant Jumbo. 1885. ISBN 978-1-480-10798-4

External links[edit]