THE FINAL ACT
Ringling Bros. circus ends historic run
1841: Phineas Taylor Barnum buys Scudder’s American Museum in New York City and renames it Barnum’s American Museum, something of a zoo, museum, lecture hall and freak show. The museum later burned down.
1871: Barnum’s show begins travelling as P.T. Barnum’s Grand Travelling American Museum.
1881: Barnum partners with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson for P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United, later shortened to the Barnum & London Circus.
1882: The Ringling Brothers — Alf, Al, Charles, John and Otto — perform their first vaudeville-style show in Mazomanie, Wis.
1884: The Ringling Brothers Circus begins as a travelling performance.
1887: The touring show becomes the Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.
1895: The Ringlings decide to branch out to New England, which was already Barnum’s territory. The two circuses agreed to divide the U.S. rather than compete head to head.
1907: After the death of James Bailey, the Ringlings buy Barnum and Bailey. They keep the circuses separate. By the 1910s the Ringling Bros. Circus had more than 1,000 employees, 335 horses, 26 elephants, 16 camels and other assorted animals that travelled on 92 railcars. The Barnum and Bailey Circus was roughly the same size.
1919: The two circuses merge and become known as “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows.”
1944: Fire breaks out at a July 6 performance in Hartford, Conn., killing an estimated 168 people and injuring hundreds, including many children.
1952: Paramount Pictures releases The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart and hundreds of the real circus cast, crew and animals. It wins the Oscar for best picture.
1967: Irvin Feld, a music and entertainment promoter, buys the Ringling circus.
1999: Ringling names its first African-American ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson.
2016: Feld Entertainment announces it will retire elephants from its circus shows. In December, the circus announces its first female ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson.
2017: Feld Entertainment announces it will close the circus.
An elephant walks out of a train car as young children watch in the Bronx railroad yard in New York in 1963.