In 1841 showman Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum purchased the "Scudder's American Museum" , he then changed the name to "Barnum's American Museum". With Barnum's style of showmanship, bombastic advertising and publicity stunts the museum became a huge success, and the Barnum name became known worldwide.
Circus operators Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup of Delavan, Wisconsin, wanting to cash in on the notoriety of the Barnum name persuaded P. T. to go into partnership with them, together they created the "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome" in 1875.
James Anthony Bailey and James E. Cooper had been operating the "Cooper and Bailey Circus" since the 1860s the circus featured a baby elephant "Columbia", which they advertised as the"the first elephant born in the United States". The elephant was a great drawing card for the circus.
Barnum offered to buy the elephant but could not make a deal with Bailey and Cooper, they eventually agreed to combine the two circus as the "Barnum & Bailey Circus". in 1881.
On August 22, 1889 the circus suffered a serious train wreck, which injured 2 animal caretakers and killed 33 horses, 2 camels and 1 mule.
P. T. Barnum died April 7, 1891, after Barnum's death James Bailey purchased P. T.s share of the circus from his widow. Bailey continued operating the show on the east coast until December of 1897, when he took the circus to Europe for a five year tour.
The five Ringling brothers of Baraboo, Wisconsin, had started a small circus which traveled by wagons and showed mid western states. When Bailey began touring Europe, the Ringlings saw this as an opportunity and moved their operation to the east coast. Their circus grew rapidly and they were soon able to railroad cars and began moving their show by rail.
By the time Bailey returned from Europe in 1902 the Ringlings were well established on the east coast. Bailey moved his circus to the west where the circus did well, however on April 11, 1906 James Anthony Bailey died. The Ringling brothers purchased the circus the following year, (1907).
The Ringlings operated the two shows separately until 1919, when they combined the two shows into the "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus".
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