Appreciate the circus on Barnum & Bailey Day celebrated annually on March 28. Founded by Phineas Barnum and James Bailey, the Barnum & Bailey Circus was the center of thrilling entertainment for millions of viewers for over a century of its existence. Today we are paying due respects to the Greatest Show on Earth.
History of Barnum & Bailey Day
If you’ve never heard about this day before, by now you should have an idea of what this entertaining day is all about. Today we are focusing the spotlight, literally and figuratively, on circuses. Not just any circus, one of the greatest of all time.
The Barnum & Bailey Circus, later known as The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was first established in 1881 and has a long history that has contributed to its tremendous popularity. The circus ran for over a century, until 2017, and became self-proclaimed as the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
The origin of modern circuses began in the 1700s in England with Philip Astley. He was the first person to create a one-stop show for horseriding tricks, acrobats, clowns, and other forms of entertainment. The Royal Circus was opened later in the same century and was the first time the term circus was ever used.
John Bill Ricketts brought the circus to the United States for the first time in 1792, and over 30 years later, the first canvas tent was used thanks to Joshuah Purdy Brown. A complete revolution of the circus, however, was seen with the launch of the first-ever freak show by P. T. Barnum.
After his retirement, Barnum partnered with William Cameron Coup to create The P. T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie & Circus, which was dubbed the “Greatest Show on Earth,” and was also the first show to make use of circus trains for transportation. A decade after, James Anthony Bailey convinced Barnum to merge their independent circus acts to create Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. Following the death of both partners, the circus was sold to the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and was run separately until eventually being merged as The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Barnum & Bailey Day timeline
Charles Dibdin establishes The Royal Circus, and was the inventor of the term ‘circus.’
John Bill Ricketts brings the first circus to America, located in Philadelphia.
P. T. Barnum partners with Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup to create P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome.
Barnum and Bailey merge their circuses to create Barnum and Bailey's Circus.
Barnum & Bailey Day FAQs
When did the Barnum & Bailey Circus merge with the Ringling Bros.?
The Ringling Bros. owned the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and bought the Barnum & Bailey circus in 1906 after Bailey’s death. However, the shows were run separately until they were eventually merged in 1919.
Who took over the Barnum & Bailey Circus after the Ringling Bros.?
After a 60-year run, the Ringling Bros. sold their show to Irvin Feld, his brother Israel and Judge Roy Hofheinz in 1967. They eventually sold the circus to the toy company Mattel shortly after, but then repurchased it about a decade after that.
Why was the Barnum & Bailey Circus closed?
The Barnum & Bailey Circus was shut down due to a multitude of reasons. The most important of which were low attendance and sales, operating costs, and several animal rights protests. The circus was officially closed down in 2017 after 146 years, although plans for a possible relaunch are being discussed.
Barnum & Bailey Day Activities
Visit the circus
Yes, circuses still exist to date! There are several animal and performance circuses scattered across the world. Today provides the best opportunity to try something new by visiting the circus. Pick the one closest to you, and head out with friends and family for an entertainment-filled day.
Watch performances online
If you do not have the opportunity to visit a circus in person, that’s okay. Thanks to the internet, you can watch live circus performances like acrobats, tightrope walkers, and jugglers, right from the comfort of your bed. Go online and see what you can find.
Learn more about circuses
We have only given a very brief introduction to circuses and their evolution over time. Take some time out to learn more about the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the history of circuses in general. Don’t forget to share your findings and spread the word about this day!
5 Interesting Facts About The Circus
It had a different meaning
Before the evolution of modern circuses, the term was used to describe horse rings in ancient Rome.
Tightrope is not a straight line
There are eight different variations of tightrope walking.
They have superstitions
Circus performers consider whistling and eating peanuts backstage a cause of bad luck, and carry hair from an elephant’s tail as good luck.
There was a floating one
The Floating Circus Palace was an over 3,000-capacity circus floating on a barge from the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
Leotards are named after someone
The gymnastic leotard costumes were named after the first flying trapeze star, Jules Leotard.
Why We Love Barnum & Bailey Day
It’s a fun day
What’s more fun than a circus? This day is all about having a good time in one of the most entertaining ways known in human history. We love a good opportunity to take a break, let loose, and have a little fun, and that’s what today is all about.
We learn about the circus
Circuses are often seen as dated forms of entertainment, and their history isn’t exactly common knowledge. This day gives us a good way to learn all about the circus and its contribution to the entertainment industry.
It gives due recognition
Barnum & Bailey Day was created to recognize the “Greatest Show on Earth,” and although this title was initially self-proclaimed, it grew into its relevance with a proven track record of over a century long. We love giving recognition when it’s due and this day creates that platform.
Barnum & Bailey Day dates