Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Ringling logo.jpg
Circus nameRingling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
CountryUnited States
Founder(s)The Ringling Brothers
Year founded1907
Traveling show?Yes
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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Ringling logo.jpg
Circus nameRingling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
CountryUnited States
Founder(s)The Ringling Brothers
Year founded1907
Traveling show?Yes
Advertisement for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1900

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is an American circus company billed as The Greatest Show on Earth. The company was started in 1919 when the circus created by James Anthony Bailey and P. T. Barnum was merged with the Ringling Brothers Circus. The Ringling brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907, but ran the circuses separately until they were finally merged in 1919. In 1957 John Ringling North changed the circus from using their own portable tents to using venues, such as sports stadiums that had the seating already in place. In 1967 Irvin Feld bought the circus, but in 1971 he sold it to Mattel. He bought it back in 1982.

History[edit source | edit]

The Barnum & Bailey Circus (The Greatest Show on Earth)[edit source | edit]

In 1875, Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup persuaded Barnum to lend his name and financial backing to the circus they had already created in Delavan, Wisconsin. It was called "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome". The moniker "Greatest Show on Earth" was added later.

Independently of Castello and Coup, James Anthony Bailey had teamed up with James E. Cooper to create the Cooper and Bailey Circus in the 1860s. The Cooper and Bailey Circus was soon Barnum's chief competitor, exhibiting "Columbia," the first baby elephant ever born in the United States. She was born in March 1880 in Philadelphia, to "Babe" and "Mandarin", and later euthanized in November 1907 for aggressiveness.[citation needed] Barnum attempted to buy the elephant. They eventually agreed to combine their shows in 1881.[1] In 1882, the combined "Barnum & Bailey Circus" was successful with acts such as Jumbo, advertised as the world's largest elephant. Barnum died in 1891 and Bailey then purchased the circus from his widow. Bailey continued touring the eastern United States until he took his circus to Europe. That tour started on December 27, 1897 and lasted until 1902.

In 1884, five of the seven Ringling brothers had started a small circus about the same time that Barnum & Bailey were at the peak of their popularity. Similar to dozens of small circuses that toured the Midwest and the Northeast at the time, the Ringlings moved their circus from town to town in small animal-drawn caravans. Their circus rapidly grew and they were soon able to move their circus by train, which allowed them to have the largest traveling amusement enterprise of that time. Bailey's European tour gave the Ringling brothers an opportunity to move their show from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. Faced with the new competition, Bailey took his show west of the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 1905. He died the next year and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus[edit source | edit]

The Ringlings purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907 and ran the circuses separately until 1919. By that time, Charles Edward Ringling and John Nicholas Ringling were the only remaining brothers of the five who founded the circus. They decided that it was too difficult to run the two circuses independently, and on March 29, 1919, "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows" debuted in New York City. The posters declared, "The Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth are now combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions." Charles E. Ringling died in 1926, but the circus flourished through the Roaring Twenties. In 1929 the American Circus Corporation signed a contract to perform in New York City. John Nicholas Ringling purchased American Circus for $1.7 million. That absorbed five major shows: Sells-Floto Circus, Al G. Barnes Circus, Sparks Circus, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, and John Robinson Circus.[2]

Frank Buck, star attraction, 1938
John Ringling North (right) and Frank Buck, who was the circus' featured attraction in 1938

In 1938, the circus made Frank Buck a lucrative offer to tour as their star attraction and to enter the show astride an elephant. He refused to join the American Federation of Actors, stating that he was "a scientist, not an actor." Though there was a threat of a strike if he did not join the union, he maintained that he would not compromise his principles, saying, "Don't get me wrong. I'm with the working man. I worked like a dog once myself. And my heart is with the fellow who works. But I don't want some ... union delegate telling me when to get on and off an elephant."[3] Eventually, the union gave Buck a special dispensation to introduce Gargantua the gorilla without registering as an actor.

The circus suffered during the 1930s due to the Great Depression, but managed to stay in business. John Nicholas Ringling's nephew, John Ringling North, managed the circus through the difficult times for several decades. Special dispensation was given to the circus by President Roosevelt to use the rails to operate in 1942, in spite of travel restrictions imposed as a result of World War II. A new marketing poster depicting a threatening circus tiger was also released that year.[citation needed]

The Hartford Circus Fire[edit source | edit]

The Hartford Circus Fire occurred on July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, during an afternoon performance that was attended by approximately 7,500 to 8,700 people. It was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. Emmett Kelly, the tramp clown, threw a bucket of water at the burning canvas tent in a futile effort to put the fire out,[citation needed] but ultimately more than 100 people were killed. The great irony of the fire was that the performance took place under canvas. Had the crowd realized it, safety was no farther away than ducking out under the sidewalls of the tent.[citation needed] Some of the dead remain unidentified to this day, even with modern DNA techniques.

Actor and theater director Charles Nelson Reilly, who was thirteen years old at the time, survived the fire and dramatized it in the film of his stage show, "The Life of Reilly". In a 1997 interview, Reilly said that he rarely attended the theater, despite being a director, since the sound of a large audience in a theater reminded him of the large crowd at the circus before the disaster.

In the following investigation, it was discovered that the tent had not been fireproofed. Ringling Bros.' had applied to the Army, which had an absolute priority on the material, for enough fireproofing liquid to treat their Big Top. The Army had refused to release it to them.[citation needed] Circus management was found to be negligent and several Ringling executives served sentences in jail.

Feld family[edit source | edit]

The post-war prosperity enjoyed by the rest of the nation was not shared by the circus as crowds dwindled and costs increased. Public tastes, influenced by the movies and television, abandoned the circus, which gave its last performance under the big top in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 16, 1956. An article in Life magazine reported that "a magical era had passed forever".[2] In 1957, when John Ringling North and Arthur Concello moved the circus from a tent show to an indoor operation, Irvin Feld was one of several promoters hired to work the advance for select dates, mostly in the Detroit and Philadelphia areas. Irvin Feld and his brother, Israel Feld, had already made a name for themselves producing touring rock and roll shows.

In the fall of 1967, Irvin Feld, Israel Feld, and Judge Roy Mark Hofheinz of Texas, together with backing from Richard C. Blum, the founder of Blum Capital, bought the company outright from North and the Ringling family interests for $8 million.[4][5] Irving Feld immediately began making other changes to improve the quality and profitability of the show. In 1968, realizing there were only 14 professional clowns remaining in the show —and that many of them were in their 50s —he established the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. The next year, he split the show into two touring units, a "Red Tour" and a "Blue Tour" which could tour the country independently. The separate tours could also offer differing slates of acts and themes, enabling circus-goers to view both tours where possible.

In 1970, Feld's only son Kenneth joined the company and became a co-producer. The circus was sold to the Mattel company in 1971 for $40 million, but the Feld family retained production control. They bought the circus back in 1982. Irvin Feld died in 1984 and the company has since been run by Kenneth.

After Walt Disney World opened near Orlando, Florida in 1971, the circus attempted to cash in on the resulting tourism surge by opening Circus World in nearby Haines City. The park was never successful, as its standard carnival-type rides were no match for Disney's state-of-the-art attractions. As such, the circus sold the park to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, who renamed it Boardwalk and Baseball. In 1990, the park finally closed down completely.

Clair George has testified in court that he worked as a consultant in the early 1990s for Kenneth Feld and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He was involved in the surveillance of Jan Pottker (a journalist who was writing about the Feld family) and of various animal rights groups such as PETA.[6]

In 1994, Walt Disney Home Video and Gregory Sills Productions co-produced a video in the Mickey's Fun Songs (later Sing-Along Songs) series, "Let's Go to the Circus," which featured Mickey and friends take a trip through the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In 1996, Feld Entertainment was created as the parent company of the circus, as well as a skating-themed sister show, Disney on Ice. The company also produces several large-scale Broadway and Las Vegas productions.

Renaming[edit source | edit]

Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth poster, c. 1899
CSX locomotives pulling the circus train out of St. Petersburg, Florida
Circus train rolling through Safety Harbor, Florida

The circus went under various names as new investors joined:

Circus trains[edit source | edit]

Currently, the circus maintains two circus train-based shows, the Blue Tour and the Red Tour, as well as the truck-based Gold Tour (which began in 2003).[7] Each train is a mile long with roughly 60 cars: 40 passenger cars and 20 freight.[8] Rolling stock belonging to the circus bears the reporting mark "RBBX". The Blue and Red Tours present a full three-ring production for two years each (taking off the month of December), visiting alternating major cities each year. Each train presents a different "edition" of the show, using a numbering scheme that dates back to circus origins in 1871 — the first year of P.T. Barnum's show. The Blue Tour presents the even-numbered editions on a two-year tour (beginning each even-numbered year), and the Red Tour presents the odd-numbered editions on the same two-year tour (beginning each odd-numbered year). The Gold Tour presents a scaled-back, single-ring version of the show, designed to serve smaller markets deemed incapable of supporting the three-ring versions.

In the 1950s there was one gigantic train systems comprising three separate train loads that brought the main show to the big cities. The first train load was comprised 22 cars and had the tents and the workers to set them up; the second section comprised 28 cars and carried the canvasmen, ushers and sideshow workers; the third section 19 sleeping cars for the performers.[9]

The 2009 139th edition Red Tour was entitled "Zing, Zang, Zoom." It featured illusions, including a disappearing elephant. However, the Red Tour will no longer feature Bello Nock. Although both are credited for production of the show, the Red Tour is mainly under the control of Kenneth Feld while his daughter Nicole controls the Blue Tour.[citation needed]

Animal care[edit source | edit]

The circus claims that the best care is given to the animals' health and welfare. The circus believes that promoting human-animal interaction is vital to increasing public awareness of the need to protect and preserve animal species. They state, "Captive animals play an important role as Ambassadors — teaching people about the animals' needs and challenges and about our responsibility to ensure their future survival." Circus owner Feld Entertainment states that they meet all requirements for zoos and circuses for animal welfare;[10] however, animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claim numerous instances of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act including inappropriate housing, poor sanitation, animal escapes, inaccurate record keeping, failure to properly protect the public from wild animals, causing physical harm and behavioral stress to animals, and other non-compliant items.[11]

In 1995, the circus opened the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida for the breeding, research, and retirement of its Asian Elephant herd.[12] All dogs in the shows are from animal shelters or rescued from poor living conditions.[13] The circus participates in breeding programs for endangered species used in the shows including the Bengal tiger and elephant. The tiger population is retired to Big Cat Rescue.[14]

Many animal welfare and animal rights organizations, such as PETA, are opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses. The animal rights groups also oppose the use of domestic animals, such as horses or dogs, in circuses. Many of these groups actively campaign against circuses by staging protests to increase awareness of animal rights' violations and to urge circus-goers to boycott Ringling and other circuses and to patronize only animal-free circuses. The groups assert that animals used in the circus are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment during training, harsh conditions during transport, and a general lack of mental and physical stimulation.[15]

Ringling Brothers circus was investigated following the death of a lion who died from heat and lack of water while the circus train was travelling through the desert.[16] In 1998, the USDA filed charges against Ringling Brothers for forcing a sick elephant to perform.[17] Ringling paid a $20,000 fine to settle the matter.[18]

In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture conducted an inspection of the circus' animals, facilities, and records, allegedly finding non-compliance with the agencies regulations. No specific violation was named and the circus denied the allegations, though they volunteered a $270,000 fine.[19] As part of the settlement, the circus must employ a full-time staff person to insure compliance with the Act and all circus employees who work with or handle animals must complete training regarding compliance with the act within 30 days of when they are hired.

The ASPCA, PETA and other animal groups sued the circus claiming that it violated the Endangered Species Act by its treatment of Asian elephants in its circus. These allegations were based primarily on the testimony of a circus barn worker. After nine years of ligitation and a six week non-jury trial, the Court dismissed the suit in a written decision, finding that the barn worker was not credible ASPCA v. Feld Entm’t, Inc., 677 F. Supp. 2d 55 (D.D.C. 2009).

In 2012, the circus learned that the animal rights groups had paid the barn worker $190,000 to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit regarding the Asian elephants. The circus sued the animal rights groups under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, accusing them of conspiracy to harm its business and other illegal acts. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agreed to pay the circus $9.2 million to settle the lawsuit. [20]

Timeline[edit source | edit]

A scene from "Over The Top"
The Torres family performing in "Over The Top"

Ringmasters[edit source | edit]

Gold Unit ringmasters[edit source | edit]

See also[edit source | edit]

Notes[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ Famous Elephant. Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Lampang Province. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Bailey and the Ringlings". Feld Entertainment. Retrieved 2008-07-21. "In 1929, reacting to the fact that his competitor, the American Circus Corporation, had signed a contract to perform in New York's Madison Square Garden, Ringling purchased American Circus for $1.7 million. In one fell swoop, Ringling had absorbed five major shows: Sells-Floto, Al G. Barnes, Sparks, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and John Robinson. ... On July 16, 1956, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the financially troubled Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey gave its last performance under the big top. John Ringling North commented that "the tented circus as it exists today is, in my opinion, a thing of the past." Life magazine wrote that "a magical era had passed forever." ... John Ringling North, an executor of his uncle's estate, became president of the show in 1937, a position he held until 1943 when his cousin, Robert, became president. John took the position once again in 1947." 
  3. ^ Lehrer, Steven (2006). Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech University press. pp. x–xi. ISBN 0-89672-582-0. 
  4. ^ a b Calta, Louis (December 5, 1967). "Feuer and Martin Suing Felds Over Circus Sale. 2 Producers Seek to Cancel $10-Million Deal for the Ringling Brothers Show. Felds Have No Comment. Format to Remain. Prediction of a Record Year Circus Started in 1871.". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-20. "Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, Broadway producers, brought suit in New York State Supreme Court yesterday to cancel the sale of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus to Irvin and Israel Feld and Roy M. Hofheinz." 
  5. ^ Richard Blum: The man behind URS, next to Sen. Feinstein San Francisco Chronicle, 2003
  6. ^ "The Greatest Vendetta on Earth". Salon.com. August 30, 2001. Retrieved 2008-07-22. "Over lunch, Smith recounted a campaign of surveillance and dirty tricks Feld had unleashed on her in the wake of her 1990 magazine piece in the now-defunct Regardie's magazine. Feld, he said, had hired people to manipulate her whole life over the past eight years. Feld had spent a lot of money on it, he said. He may have even tried to destroy her marriage. In fact, Pottker would eventually learn of a massive dirty tricks operation, involving former CIA officials and operatives, that would target Ringling enemies such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups, not just Pottker." 
  7. ^ Feld Stewardship
  8. ^ The town without a zipcode
  9. ^ "Here Comes The Circus."Popular Mechanics, May 1952, pp. 81-87/220
  10. ^ "FAQs". Feld Entertainment. Retrieved 2008-07-31. [dead link]
  11. ^ United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, pdf file posted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus USDA Inspection Reports from December 14, 1993, to March 12, 2009". Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  12. ^ "About the Center for Elephant Conservation". Retrieved 2007-08-11. "A lifelong symbol of The Greatest Show on Earth, the Asian elephant is a respected and revered member of the Ringling Bros. family. In the interest of the species' present and future well-being, the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation was established in 1995. Located in central Florida, this 200-acre, $5-million, state-of-the-art facility is dedicated to the conservation, breeding and understanding of these animals." 
  13. ^ 135th Edition Souvenir Program. Feld Entertainment. 2005. p. 32. 
  14. ^ "Welcome to Big Cat Rescue". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved 2009-01-30. "Big Cat Rescue, a non profit educational sanctuary, is devoted to rescuing and providing a permanent home for exotic (i.e. wild, not domestic) cats who have been abused, abandoned, bred to be pets, retired from performing acts, or saved from being slaughtered for fur coats, and to educating the public about these animals and the issues facing them in captivity and in the wild." 
  15. ^ Circuses.com
  16. ^ Washington Post — Marc Kaufman (August 8, 2004). "USDA Investigates Death of Circus Lion Activists Dispute Account Given by Ringling Brothers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  17. ^ Associated Press (April 22, 1998). "Death of Elephant Questioned". CBS News. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  18. ^ "Circus elephants in the legal spotlight". May 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  19. ^ Associated Press (November 28, 2011). "Ringling circus agrees to $270K USDA fine involving alleged violations of animal welfare rules". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  20. ^ Associated Press (December 28, 2012). "Animal rights group settles lawsuit with Ringling". Denver Post. Retrieved 2012-12-28. 
  21. ^ "The Great Showman Dead. Last Hours Of The Life Of Phineas T. Barnum. The Veteran Manager Sinks Into A Peaceful Sleep That Knows No Waking. The Funeral To Be Private At His Express Desire.". New York Times. April 8, 1891, Wednesday. "Bridgeport, Connecticut, April 7, 1891. At 6:22 o'clock to-night the long sickness of P.T. Barnum came to an end by his quietly passing away at Marina, his residence in this city." 
  22. ^ "A Cesar Among Showmen. James A. Bailey, The Partner And Successor Of Barnum. He Is The Creator Of The Modern Circus. His Tremendous Energy And Working Ability. How He Became What He Is.". New York Times. April 19, 1891. Retrieved 2007-07-21. "One of the most modest little men that ever lived has been forced to the front by the death of P.T. Barnum. James Anthony Bailey for ten years has been Mr. Barnum's partner. He can, without exaggeration, be called the creator of the modern circus. He has lifted the circus to a standard that renders almost ridiculous the laws that once were so necessary for its regulation." 
  23. ^ "James A. Bailey, King Of Circus Men, is Dead. News Kept From Performers Till The Show Was Over. Widow Gets Circus Stock. Showman Died Of Erysipelas At His Country Home Near Mount Vernon After A Week's Illness." (PDF). New York Times. April 12, 1906. Retrieved 2007-07-21. "While the band blared and the clowns made fun and the elephants walked around at the circus last night for the thousands in Madison Square Garden, there were few among the spectators who knew that James A. Bailey, the backbone of the "Greatest Show on Earth," lay dead in his home, The Knolls, near Mount Vernon [New York]." 
  24. ^ a b c d "Died.". Time (magazine). June 17, 1985. Retrieved 2008-07-20. "John Ringling North, 81, flamboyant, fast-talking showman who from 1937 to 1943 and from 1947 to 1967 ran "The Greatest Show on Earth," the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, started by his five uncles in 1884; of a stroke; in Brussels. North took over the debt-spangled show after the death of his last uncle, John Ringling, and modernized it with such attractions as Gargantua the Great, the "vehemently vicious" 550-lb. gorilla that drew more than 40 million circusgoers. In 1956, North folded the big top and reincarnated the show for new arenas of the air-conditioned era." 
  25. ^ "Feld Family Buys Ringling Bros". Associated Press in New York Times. March 19, 1982. Retrieved 2008-07-20. "Mattel Inc. said that it had sold Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows Inc. for $22.8 million to a family that had owned the circus and has been in its management for 26 years. Two members of the family, Irvin Feld and his son, Kenneth, said that the deal included the circus, Ice Follies, Holiday on Ice and the new Walt Disney's World on Ice. The transaction also includes a Las Vegas nightclub act called Beyond Belief. The acquisition involves more than 1,200 performers and employees, 500 circus animals and 98 railroad cars. Irvin Feld was a record and music promoter and music store chain owner before becoming involved with the circus in 1956. In 1967, he and a brother acquired the company's total assets from the Ringling and North families for $8 million. Two years later, the circus became a publicly held corporation, and in 1971 the company was sold to Mattel for $50 million in stock." 

External links[edit source | edit]