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Jumbo The Elephant
SpeciesAfrican bush elephant
French Sudan
DiedSeptember 15, 1885
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Weight13,000 lb
Height13 ft 1 in (4 m)

Jumbo (1861 – September 15, 1885) was a large African Bush Elephant, born 1861 in the French Sudan – present-day Mali – imported to a Paris zoo, transferred to the London Zoo in 1865, and sold in 1882 to P. T. Barnum, for the circus.

The giant elephant's name has spawned the common word "jumbo", meaning large in size.


Jumbo was born in 1861 in the French Sudan, whence he was imported to France and kept in the old zoo Jardin des Plantes, near the railway station Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris. In 1865 he was transferred to the London Zoo, where he became famous for giving rides to visitors, especially children. The London zookeepers gave Jumbo his name; it is likely a variation of one of two Swahili words: jambo, which means "hello" or jumbe, which means "chief".

Jumbo was sold in 1881 to P. T. Barnum, owner of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, known as "The Greatest Show on Earth," for 10,000 dollars. When Barnum had offered to buy Jumbo, 100,000 school children wrote to Queen Victoria begging her not to sell the elephant. 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.[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 after his collision with a locomotive on September 15, 1885 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Jumbo statue in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Mural featuring Jumbo, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada


Jumbo died at a railway classification yard in Canada at St. Thomas, Ontario, where he was hit and fatally wounded by a locomotive. Barnum afterwards told the story that Jumbo died saving a young circus elephant, Tom Thumb, from being hit by the locomotive, but other witnesses did not support this.[2]

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.

Many metallic objects were found in the elephant's stomach, including pennies, nickels, dimes, keys, and rivets.

Jumbo's skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 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, and the mounted specimen traveled with Barnum's circus for a number of years. In 1889, Barnum donated the stuffed Jumbo to Tufts University, where it was displayed until destroyed by a fire in 1975, coincidentally a fate that befell many of Barnum's exhibits during his own lifetime.

The great elephant's ashes 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.[3] A statue of an elephant, dubbed "Jumbo", was purchased from an amusement park and placed on the Tufts campus after the fire. Jumbo became the university's mascot, and remains such to this day.


  • The elephant's fame turned its name into a household word, with "Jumbo size" meaning "very large".
  • The titular character of Walt Disney's Dumbo was named after Jumbo .
  • Jumbo was used on at least one Victorian trade card (1890) to advertise Fletcher's Castoria. The text read "Jumbo Feeds Baby Castoria. From peasant nurse to high born lady, All mothers know what's good for baby. While Jumbo, too, though not a lady, Follows suit and feeds the great baby." An image of the card is shown on Centaur.com. Barnum is quoted on the back of the card praising the benefits of the company's ointment Centaur Liniment.
  • A life-size statue of the elephant was erected in 1985 in St. Thomas 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, Ontario, Canada brews the popular "Dead Elephant Ale" a richly hopped IPA devoted to Jumbo and St. Thomas's railway history. Railway City Brewing
  • Jumbo has been lionized on a series of sheet music covers from roughly 1882-83. The great four color lithograph of Jumbo was created by the famous Alfred Concanen of England and was matched with the music title 'Why Part With Jumbo', a song by the great lion comique of the British music halls, G.H. Macdermott. It pictured the children visiting the zoo and riding, somewhat precariously, on Jumbo's back. The finest of multiple American lithographic music covers was done by John Bufford.
  • Jumbo is the mascot of Tufts University. Elephants are featured prominently throughout the Medford/Somerville Campus.
  • In Mysore, India Vijayadashami Elephant procession during Dasara is called Jumbo Savari (referred to as Jumbo Savari by the British during their control of Mysore State). The original name to this procession is Jumbi Savari (going to the Banni(Shami)tree). Now Goddess Chamundeshwari is taken in procession on an Elephant. But the "Jumbo" name is still intact.
  • In computer networking, Jumbo frames are Ethernet frames with more than 1500 bytes of payload.
  • Boeing's 747 Jumbo jet is another good usage.
  • Indian Cricket Legend Anil Kumble is nicknamed Jumbo not only because his deliveries, for a spinner, are "as fast as a Jumbo jet", but also because his feet are quite big or Jumbo as observed by his team-mates.

See also


  • 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

External links

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