|Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey|
One of the first circuses in America is believed to have taken place in 1793 in Philadelphia, with George Washington in attendance. Staged by an Englishman named John Bill Ricketts, this circus was mainly an equestrian show featuring bareback riding and horse acrobatics, though it also included a juggler, clown, musicians and even a rope-walker.
By 1825, circuses began using tents, so wagons were needed to haul the equipment. They also needed cages and dens to carry the wild animals. As the shows grew in size, more wagons and horses were added, along with the acquisition of elephants and camels. The desire for bigger and better circuses brought in Phineas T. Barnum, who had already made a name in the world as a concert promoter and operator of museums with both human curiosities and hoaxes. Barnum’s first circus opened on April 10, 1871 in Brooklyn, New York, under three acres of canvas, and grossed more than $400,000 its first season, traveling from one town to another in an endless train. Following the success of Barnum’s circus, other showmen started converting their wagon shows to rail caravans.
|P.T. Barnum & General Tom Thumb|
|Circus Ring, Coney Island|
--Kathleen Adrian, Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum