Florida based Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus calling it quits after 146 years
After 146 years, Florida based Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be closing down “The Greatest Show on Earth.” It was confirmed on Saturday night by the owner himself.
— Ringling Bros. (@RinglingBros) January 15, 2017
“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
“We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren’t successful in finding the solution.” Feld continued
“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks – such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children- are throwbacks to another era. “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”
The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.
The circus was the brain child of the iconic promoter Phineas Taylor Barnum, who made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin and they would move to Sarasota in the 1927 making Florida their winter home.
By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled.
They were losing their audience to movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.
Here is the history of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus:
1841 — Phineas Taylor Barnum buys Scudder’s American Museum in New York City and renames it Barnum’s American Museum, which was something of a zoo, museum, lecture hall and freak show. It was filled with artifacts and items from around the world. The museum later burned down. Barnum also took his show on the road as “P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling 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 — performed their first vaudeville-style show in Mazomanie, Wisconsin.
1884 — The Ringling Brothers Circus begins as a traveling performance.
1887 — The official Ringling touring show became the “Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.”
1895 — The Ringlings decided to branch out to New England, which was already the territory of P.T. Barnum. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the two circuses “agreed to divide the U.S. rather than compete head-to-head. The Ringlings established their headquarters in Chicago while Barnum and Bailey stayed in New York.”
1907 — After the death of James Bailey, the Ringlings buy Barnum and Bailey. They keep the circuses separate, and the Wisconsin Historical Society wrote that by the 1910s the Ringling Bros. Circus had more than 1,000 employees, 335 horses, 26 elephants, 16 camels and other assorted animals that traveled on 92 railcars. The Barnum and Bailey Circus was roughly the same size.
1919 — The two circuses merged and became known as “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows.”
1927 — John Ringling moves circus headquarters to Sarasota, Florida.
1967 — Irvin Feld, a music and entertainment promoter, buys The Ringling circus and formally acquires it in a ceremony held at the Colosseum in Rome.
1985 — Kenneth Feld, Irvin’s son, becomes the owner of Feld Entertainment and the circus after his father dies.
2016 — Feld Entertainment announces it will retire elephants from its circus shows. The animals are moved to its Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, Florida.
Quotes used in the story came from CBS News and ASSOCIATED PRESS