A Brief History
On July 16, 1956, the last “Big Top” circus produced by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended its run in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and all subsequent circus productions would be held in arenas instead of the giant tents.
PT Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth” had merged with The Cooper and Bailey Circus in 1881, then was bought by the Ringling Brothers in 1907. The two circuses operated separately until 1919.
In 1944, the circus suffered a tragedy when the Big Top caught on fire in Hartford, Connecticut, resulting in 167 deaths, though this fire did not end the Big Top era.
It was economics that killed the Big Top and drove the circus indoors, as the television and drive in movie media attracted many circus fans. Concerns about animal rights changed the circus in the 21st Century, and in September of 2023 management has scheduled a reboot of their show, See you there!
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For more information, please see…
Charles River Editors. The Greatest Show on Earth: The History of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Charles River, 2015.
Standiford, Les. Battle for the Big Top: P.T. Barnum, James Bailey, John Ringling, and the Death-Defying Saga of the American Circus. Public Affairs, 2021.
The featured image in this article, P T Barnum Circus – Allentown PA, is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1928.
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