PT Barnum Biography

PHOTO: PT Barnum

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the great American showman, was born to storekeeper and farmer parents in Connecticut. , the great American showman, was born to storekeeper and farmer parents in Connecticut.

Showing early entrepreneurial promise, he started his own store in 1828 and married the next year. After a failed publishing venture, he moved to New York City in 1834, running a boarding house.

He caused his first sensation, in 1835, when he bought a slave called Joice Heth for $1000, who claimed she was 161 years old and had been the nurse of George Washington. Exhibiting her, he was soon making $750 a week.

In 1842, he opened the famous American Museum in New York City and immediately became famous for his exhibits of freaks.

Among his great attractions were the “Fiji Mermaid” “General Tom Thumb,” who was viewed by over 20 million people, and the Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng.

In 1850, Barnum managed the American tour of the Swedish singer, Jenny Lind and, with his talent for publicity, made it a huge financial success for her and for himself.

A brilliant and shameless promoter, Barnum was constantly accused of fraud. Adopting the attitude that there was no such thing as bad press, he became one of the richest men in America.

Retiring from show business in 1855, he served as mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. Forced, through bankruptcy, to reopen the American Museum, he organized his famous circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which opened in Brooklyn in 1871.

In 1881, he merged with his most successful competitor, James A. Bailey, and under the name Barnum and Bailey the circus continued for a generation after his death.

The star of the circus was Jumbo, a 6 ½-ton African elephant that Barnum purchased from the London Zoo amid protests from many, including Queen Victoria.

His autobiography was published in 1855, to great success. He also wrote 'Humbugs of the World' (1865), 'Struggles and Triumphs' (1869), and 'Money Getting' (1883). Barnum died in Bridgeport in 1891.

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