"After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year,” company's CEO Kenneth Feld said. Feld cited declining ticket sales, the public call for excluding elephants from the show, and high operating costs as a reason the business is no longer sustainable.
To celebrate the Greatest Show on Earth, here are 20 facts about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
1. According to the company’s press release, The Ringling Bros. circus will hold its last performance in Uniondale, New York on May 21.
2. The seven “Ringling” brothers were born in Iowa and raised in Wisconsin, where their real name was Rungeling.
3. The brothers put on their first show in 1882 in Mazomanie, Wisconsin, advertised as the "Ringling Bros. Variety Performance."
4. Originally a competitor of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Ringling brothers and agreed to divide the country into territories where they could perform, which kept them out of Madison Square Garden in New York until 1905.
5. That year, the owner of the Barnum and Bailey circus passed away, and the Ringling brothers bought their circus in 1907 for $400,000 (about $8.5 million today). They ran them as two separate entities until 1919 when the Barnum and Bailey's Circus and the Ringling Bros. Circus were merged.
6. On July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, a fire broke out during one of the circus performances, killing 167 people and injuring at least 700 more. The cause of the blaze was never determined, but The Hartford Circus Fire remains one of the worst fires in U.S. history.
7. They certainly take their clowning seriously at the circus so in 1968, a Circus Clown College was founded by Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey to teach, uphold and pass on the art of clowning – although women weren’t allowed to enroll until 1970.
8. In 1978, Feld Entertainment purchased the original Ringling Bros. Circus for $8 million.
9. The owner, Irvin Feld, did away with the freak show section of performances because he didn’t want to make money by exploiting or demeaning other peoples’ appearances. Instead, he led the circus into a more family-friendly era.
10. An entertainment institution in America, around 10 million people visited the Ringling Brothers circus every year, dubbed The Greatest Show on Earth.
11. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to between 90 and 120 cities the U.S. and Canada every year, making sure no city ever sees the same performance twice.
12. The entire circus travels between cities by train, divided into two separate train lines, the Red Unit and the Blue Unit. Both trains consist of 55 or 56 cars, span almost 5,000 feet and weigh more than 4,000 tons.
13. The train lines include 33 conventional passenger cars for personnel, 2 container flats for storage, 17 piggyback flats to carry equipment, props, stage sets, and vehicles, and 4 animal stock cars.
14. In later years, the circus made huge concessions to ensure that their animals were treated well, especially the elephants.
15. Animal stock cars were specially designed for ventilation and climate control, had all animals facing each other, well-trained humans attending them, and sat directly behind the locomotive for the smoothest ride.
16. These pampered elephants were also given a supply of food and water. In fact, each circus elephant ate about 150-250 pounds of hay, grains, fruits and vegetables daily, as well as drinking 30-50 gallons of water.
17. In all, it took six hours to unload the train at every stop and twelve hours to set up for the next show!
18. To answer a rising outcry about the dwindling number of elephants in the wild and their treatment in the circus, The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) was established in 1995. Sitting on 200 acres in central Florida, it's a place that tends to the safety, health, reproduction, and retirement of the endangered Asian elephant, now with less than 35,000 alive on the planet.
19. However, in 2016, the 40 remaining elephants used by the circus were retired from performing after officials faced decades of lawsuits, protests, and concerns from animal rights advocates. According to the company, ticket sales took a huge hit once elephants were no longer part of the circus.
20. The beloved circus may be closing its doors, but it certainly won't be forgotten, as several books and movies are in the works about circuses in American history, including a movie entitled "The Greatest Showman on Earth" about P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman.
So what did you like best about the circus?