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James Anthony Bailey owner of the Barnum and Bailey Circus
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James Anthony Bailey

July 4, 1847 - April 11, 1906

Barnum and Bailey Circus Poster
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Photo Credit:
Westchester County Historical Society

James A. Bailey was born on born July 4, 1847 as James Anthony McGinnis in Detroit, Michigan, he was orphaned in his early childhood. His Father died when Janes was two and his mother when he was eight. James was then sent to live in an abusive home, Bailey later stated "instead of being treated as a ward for whom comfortable provision had been made, I was made to work like a dog. On the slightest provocation I was whipped".

At age thirteen James ran away from this home, barefooted and with only the clothes on his back and a broken pocket knife. He found work at a farm, working for $ 3.25 a month with lodging and food.

During this period of working at the farm, young Bailey happened to meet a billposter for 'Robinson and Lake's Old Time Circus". James was hired to put up posters for the show, earning him free tickets to the performance.

When the circus came to town Bailey was introduced to Mr. Robinson, James told him that he was an orphan and wanted to join the show. He was hired and began working hard in an environment that he loved. Robinson liked the young man and soon began treating him as his own son, however three years later Robinson died.

Bailey then at age sixteen began working for circus owner James E. Cooper, as an advance agent for his show. Again Bailey worked hard and greatly impressed Mr. Cooper, who eventually made Bailey a partner in the circus. The show was then re-named the "Cooper and Bailey Circus".

In 1868 James Married Ruth Louisa McCaddon (1846–1912) , of Zanesville, Ohio.

Later Bailey would become partner with P. T. Barnum and the "Barnum and Bailey Circus" was born, a name that has become iconic for circuses to this day.

Bailey became quite wealthy in the circus business and built a large estate in Westchester County, NY. During his career he supported many charities for orphans, and established a "orphans day" at his circus.

In 1906 Bailey became ill with a skin infection. The infection worsened and a week later, on Wednesday April 11, at 5:15 PM as his circus was preparing to open in Madison Square Garden James A. Bailey died in his home in Mount Vernon,NY.

Bailey spent the last days of his life giving instructions on how his circus was to be run after his death.

For more information see Barnum and Bailey Circus


Sarasota's Circus Ring of Fame   On Junuary 04, 1991 James Anthony Bailey was inducted into the Sarasota's Circus Ring of Fame.

In 1960 James A. Bailey was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame


James A. Bailey's Mount Vernon estate

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James A. Bailey's
Mount Vernon,NY estate.

Photo Credit:
Westchester County Historical Society


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