Ringling Brothers Circus

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Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows
Flickr - …trialsanderrors - Madam Ada Castello and Jupiter, poster for Ringling Brothers, ca. 1899.jpg
Poster for Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows, ca. 1899
The Ringling brothers are depicted in the upper left corner
Country United States
Founder(s) Ringling Bros.
Year founded 1871
Operator(s) Ringling Bros.
Fate Merged with Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth
Website https://www.ringling.com

Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows was a circus founded in Baraboo, Wisconsin, United States in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling brothers: Albert, August, Otto, Alfred T., Charles, John, and Henry. The Ringling brothers were sons of a German immigrant, August Frederick Rungeling, who simplified his name to Ringling once in America. Four brothers were born in McGregor, Iowa: Alf T., Charles, John and Henry. The Ringling family lived in McGregor, Iowa for twelve years, from 1860 until 1872. The family then lived in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and moved to Baraboo, Wisconsin in 1875. In 1907 Ringling Bros. acquired the Barnum & Bailey Circus, merging them in 1919 to become Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, promoted as The Greatest Show on Earth.[1]


Poster promoting the "Raschetta Brothers" acrobats
Circus's Bridgeport, Connecticut, headquarters, about 1911
Ringling Brothers trains and elephants
Mabel Ringling (later Anderson) in riding clothes - Sarasota, Florida (1947)

In 1882, before the Ringling brothers created their first circus, the five brothers performed skits and juggling routines in town halls around the state of Wisconsin. Their first show was on November 27, 1882, in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. They called this the "Ringling Bros. Variety Performance" when they took the show to the next town. With two wandering performers the next year, the brothers toured the Northwest. After the Northwest tour, they used the money earned for suits.[2]

They expanded their acts into a one ring show in 1884. The show added a trick horse and a bear at the end of the season. The circus started traveling by trains in 1888 allowing the show to consistently expand.[2]

Ringling Circus purchased the Yankee Robinson Circus and opened a joint show on May 19, 1884. This brought them to the attention of James Anthony Bailey of Barnum and Bailey's Circus as a viable competitor. The brothers met with Bailey thus agreeing to a division of areas. This was followed by them purchasing a half share of the Adam Forepaugh Sells Brothers Circus from Bailey. Bailey, under the area division, prohibited the Ringlings from playing at the Madison Garden, a location that was the brothers' ambition to perform at. In 1887 Ringling Circus changed its official title to the "Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals."[2]

In 1906, Bailey died which led to the Ringlings taking over Forepaugh-Sells, which continued to operate separately. In October 1907, the stockholders of Barnum and Bailey's Circus approved the sale of the circus to the Ringlings.[2] Due to World War I, Ringlings Circus and Barnum and Bailey's Circus were merged in 1919 as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.[1]

Feld Entertainment Inc., parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey announced on January 14, 2017 that the iconic 146-year-old circus would hold its final performances in May 2017. Their final shows would be at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., on May 7, 2017 and at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21, 2017. The decision to end the circus tours was made as a result of high costs coupled with a decline in ticket sales, making the circus an unsustainable business for the company. [6] In March 2015, a decision was made to transition of the elephants off the circus with consumer sentiment changing on whether elephants in a circus were appropriate, or whether it could be considered animal abuse.[7] The company saw a decline in ticket sales greater than could have been anticipated as a result of this decision.


Taking the promotion title of the circus, a 1952 drama film was made using the circus, called The Greatest Show on Earth. The film was produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The film was shot in Technicolor and released by Paramount Pictures. The setting of the film was the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The film starred Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde as trapeze artists competing for the center ring, and Charlton Heston as the circus manager running the show. James Stewart starred in a supporting role as a mysterious clown who never removes his make-up, even between shows and Dorothy Lamour and Gloria Grahame play supporting roles.[3][4] [5]

See also[edit]

1898 Ringling Brothers poster
  • Trapeze, a 1956 film with technical consultant from Ringling Brothers Circus.


  1. ^ a b Wisconsin Historical Society. Ringling Brothers: The Beginnings of the 'Greatest Show on Earth
  2. ^ a b c d "Augustus Ringling Dead. Head of Tented Shows In America Dies in New Orleans" (PDF). The New York Times. December 19, 1907. Retrieved 2008-07-20. When the Ringling Brothers bought the Barnum Bailey show they ... got a monopoly on the circus business in America. They now own outright three ... 
  3. ^ "The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 17, 2016. 
  4. ^ The Greatest Show On Earth, a January 2, 1952 review from Variety
  5. ^ De Mille Puts Greatest Show on Earth on Film for All to See, a January 11, 1952 review from The New York Times

6. Feld Entertainment Announces Final Performances of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in May 2017. Feld Entertainment Press Release January 14, 2017.

7. Ringling Bros. to Retire Its Circus Elephants National Geographic March 5, 2015

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