Phineas Taylor Barnum, known commonly as P.T Barnum was an American entertainer, showman and entrepreneur who is most famed for his promotion of celebrated hoaxes and the ‘Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus’. He was America’s second millionaire of the time.
Master of the Show, P.T Barnum was born on 5th July 1810 in Bethel. Connecticut. He started working as a storekeeper then launched his own newspaper in 1829 by the name of ‘The Herald of Freedom’. Barnum married young at the age of 19. His main source of income was his state wide lottery network and when they were banned in 1834 Barnum had to sell his store. He moved to New York and the next year began his career as a showman. His first show consisted of the exhibition of a blind and paralyzed 160 year old woman Joice Heth who he claimed was George Washington’s caretaker. The truth was that she was not more than 80 when she died in 1836 and she was one of the hoaxes of P.T Barnum. His first troupe was ‘Barnum’s Grand Scientific and Musical Theater’ that was quite successful. Some of his other hoaxes were a five year old midget who Barnum claimed was eleven, a so called ‘Darwin’s missing link’ named William Henry Thompson and some non-human ones such as the Feejee Mermaid and the Cardiff Giant. According to him use of these hoaxes was nothing wrong and immoral and he used them merely with the purpose of entertaining his audiences.
Barnum’s first circus was ‘P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus’ which he started at the age of 60. His circus which was called ‘P.T. Barnum’s Traveling World’s Fair, Great Roman Hippodrome, and Greatest show on Earth’ covered more than five acres and was not conducted in just one city but travelled all over the country to attract wider audience. He was the first person who moved a circus by a train. He merged with James Bailey and their circus became famous as the ‘three-ring extravaganza’. He also owned the biggest elephant ever to be captivated who was named ‘Jumbo’. This made his circus even more successful.
Barnum is credited for changing people’s views about the theatre who called it ‘dens of evil’. He opened the biggest and most modern theater of the time and called it the ‘Moral Lecture Room’. He also began ‘theatrical matinees’ for families to enjoy and decrease their fears of crime. He authored many books such as ‘Life of P.T. Barnum’ (1854), ‘Struggles and Triumphs’ (1869, ‘The Humbugs of the World’ (1865) and ‘The Art of Money-Getting’ (1880). Barnum also took part in politics aiming at issues such as slavery, race and sectionalism before the American Civil War. Even though he stated that ‘politics were always distasteful to me’ he was elected as the Republican representative in the Connecticut legislature.
Barnum went through a stroke during one of his performances in 1890. He died on 7th April 1890 and was buried in Bridgeport, Connecticut.