Tom Thumb Day – January 4, 2022

Tom Thumb Day is celebrated on January 4 to commemorate the legacy of Charles Sherwood Stratton, the greatest actor of his time. Born on January 4, 1838, in the silent streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Charles went on to achieve global acclaim under the patronage of his mentor and adoptee, circus pioneer P. T. Barnum. Stratton, a dwarf, evaded the stigma that comes with the disability and took his talent all the way to the courtyard of Queen Victoria. On his birth anniversary, we come together to acknowledge his lasting legacy in the entertainment industry, and the many paths he paved for the little people of his time. 

History of Tom Thumb Day

Charles Sherwood Stratton was born on January 4, 1838, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Although he had a normal appearance at the time of his birth, he stopped showing signs of physical development after six months due to a growth hormone deficiency. He remained 25 inches tall until the age of nine when he started growing very slowly again. His final height measured at three-foot four inches. 

At the age of four, circus maestro P.T. Barnum, a distant relative of Stratton’s, recognized his talent and decided to mentor him. He informally adopted the boy and taught him how to sing, dance, mime, and impersonate. Soon enough, Barnum’s dedicated tutelage came to fruition, as Stratton became one of the main acts of his New York City Museum. 

As the duo started their American tour, Barnum gave Stratton a new stage name, Tom Thumb, based on English folklore. He billed him as an 11-year-old dwarf from England when Stratton was just five years old. On the stage, Stratton impersonated characters such as Napoleon and Cupid. 

At the age of six, Charles was invited to Buckingham Palace. His performance for Queen Victoria and the subsequent tour earned him star status in London. As the years passed, Stratton added many titles to this name, “the greatest actor of his time” being one of them. From his very first performance in New York, he breathed fresh air into the freak show entertainment world and rehabilitated the presentation of ‘human curiosities’.

America’s love for carnival shows can be partially credited to the lively performances of  General Tom Thumb and his decades-long dedication to the craft. Burnam didn’t just capitalize on Stratton’s small stature, but he also highlighted his true artistry. Stratton’s ability to sing and act, coupled with his clever comedic timing made him a true professional entertainer, one of the greatest to ever exist. 

After four decades in the entertainment industry, which included an invitation from the Lincoln White House, Stratton died of a heart stroke at the age of 45. On the anniversary of his birth, we celebrate General Tom Thumb and his towering contribution to the entertainment industry. 

Tom Thumb Day timeline

1838
Birth and Beyond

Charles Sherwood Stratton is born to Bridgeport natives Sherwood Edward Stratton and Amy Sharpe.

1843
The First Tour

Charles tours America for the first time at the age of five, impersonating characters such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Cupid.

1845
French Triumph

Charles performs at the French Théâtre du Vaudeville, earning global acclaim and a loyal fanbase.

1863
Love and Marriage

Charles marries Lavinia Warren, who is also a little person.

Tom Thumb Day FAQs

Why is Charles Sherwood Stratton called General Tom Thumb?

P.T. Barnum, Charles’s mentor and adoptee, gave him the title General Tom Thumb after English folklore to popularize his shows. As he was marketing Charles in the industry, he wanted to introduce familiarity to his name.

Is dwarfism hereditary?

Contrary to popular belief, Dwarfism is not hereditary. Over 80% of little people are born to average-sized humans. Dwarfism is caused by a genetic mutation and can occur in any fertilized embryo. 

Is the term ‘midget’ offensive?

Yes. Midget is offensive and should not be used to describe little people. Some of the usable terms are ‘person of short stature’ and ‘little person’.

Tom Thumb Day Activities

  1. Watch a Tom Thumb documentary

    To get a real taste of this unconventional global icon, watch a documentary based on his life. There are tons available online, like “History's Smallest Superstar: The Real Tom Thumb,” which contains the life and strife of our amazing hero.

  2. Celebrate our differences

    Stratton dedicated his life to the entertainment industry and became a role model for thousands of little people of his time. In many ways, he celebrated his gift, inspiring others to look beyond the things that make us different from others.

  3. Mentor someone in need

    Stratton would have never become General Tom Thumb if it had not been for the incredibly selfless mentorship of Barnum. Surely there are people in your life who can use your guidance, and January is a great month for you to take someone under your tutelage.

5 Facts About Little People In Arts That’ll Humble You

  1. Honored since Adam

    Clay sculptures and imagery of little people have been discovered amongst some of the oldest artifacts dating back to the Maya civilization.

  2. Snow White and the first dwarfs

    The 1937 animated movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” depicted animated dwarfism for the first time.

  3. It’s Dunn time

    Micheal Dunn (1934–1973) is credited for inspiring a new wave of little people in the entertainment industry.

  4. The wizard of the most

    The 1939 blockbuster “The Wizard of Oz” holds the record for casting the most number of little people in a single movie.

  5. The game of Emmys

    Peter Dinklage is the most awarded dwarf in Hollywood, with over 12 accolades to his name, including a record four Emmys.

Why We Love Tom Thumb Day

  1. General Tom Thumb’s legacy is worth the celebration

    Through talent and sheer hard work, Stratton became the most famous actor of his time. Not only did he popularize carnival shows but also turned the narrative around in freak show entertainment. On Tom Thumb Day, we celebrate his enduring legacy.

  2. Our uniqueness is a gift

    Barnum recognized Stratton’s potential and never underestimated his gift. It is because of him that Stratton became a household name in the 19th century. Tom Thumb Day reminds us that we all have the potential to succeed if we recognize that our uniqueness is truly a gift.

  3. It sheds light on discrimination

    Dwarf actors often face immense discrimination in the form of ridiculed roles, low pay, unfavorable work conditions, and unstable contracts. Tom Thumb Day aims to shed light on the often-ignored plight of the little people in the entertainment industry.

Tom Thumb Day dates

YearDateDay
2021January 4Monday
2022January 4Tuesday
2023January 4Wednesday
2024January 4Thursday
2025January 4Saturday

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