Abstract of circus articles
About the wagons and shows.
by Willem Van Osnabrugge. May 1999.
So much to see, hear and smell in a parade.
The Great Circus Parade that went through towns had 3 or 4 bands, great heards of
elephants, cages of wild animals, performers, clowns and trailed by the thundering
calliope. When people went to the circus, it was as much to hear the brass bands as for
In 1840 there were at least 20 traveling circuses. In 1873 there were 25. In 1901 at the
peak of Golden Age there were 89. In 1931, at peak of depression there were 23. Attendance
in 1931 was double that of 1870 with 15 million visitors.
The earliest railroad transportation was the original railroad circus from Detroit in
1853. They were all short lived; because tracks were short and even in 1872 there were 23
different size tracks, varying from 3 to 6 ft. The first trans continental railroad circus
was done in 1868 by James M. Nixon. The flat wagons were suitably equipped to take the
normal wagons to go to the villages. In 1872 the new Barnum circus went by railroad.
The 3 stage ring was introduced by the Barnum circus in 1873. The 2 smaller ones were in
operation at the same time. The big one (hippodrome) was used alone for the Great Pageant,
tournaments etc. The big tent could be 490 x 190 ft, made in 14 pieces, each weighing 2000
Bailey's 1879 show had 10 elephants, 10 camels, a hippo, a rhino, 7 tigers, 4 lions, 6
panthers, 3 cheetahs, one black bear, 4 zebras, 4 leopards, 13 reptiles, 14 hyenas, 2
wolves and cubs, 2 polar bears, 1 gnu, 2 baboons, 8 monkeys, 1 emu, 1 ostrich, 2 cages of
birds and 200 small animals.
In 1882 Bailey had 5 advance cars and a brigade which operated a stereopticon to display
pictures of previous shows.
When the show went to Texas, 3 advance cars were used, each equipped with a steam
calliope. These instruments were played while the cars were traveling, and concerts were
given in towns. The #1 and #2 wagons alternated, staying 2 days in a one day stand to bill
to the town and surrounding villages. Number 3 made every stand.
B&B also bought a huge African elephant from the London zoo, named (Mumbo) Jumbo. That
name is still used to day for anything big. It was killed in a railroad accident in 1885
in Ontario. They had it then mounted and on display in the show.
In 1885 almost all of the circuses of considerable sizes were transported by rail. Cars
were usually 30 or 40 ft long. The working men would sleep on the flat cars under the
wagons. However the great majority of (the smaller) circuses still traveled by road
The first day parade by B&B on March 18, 1893 in NY had 3 thundering calliopes, 50
wagons, assorted floats, tableaux and vehicles, 300 animals, not counting the horses, and
500 people all strung out in 10 long sections.
The big Twin Hemisphere Bandwagon of B&B, in 1903, was pulled by 40 horses and had a
28 musicians playing band.
Circuses in the small towns had to "make the nut" (to pay for all the bills and
licensing fees) to get an important nut back from the bandwagon wheel after the
performance, before leaving town.
In 1910 the R's and B&B had 85 railroad cars, which moved in 3 sections. The total
number of circus railroad cars in the US by that time was approaching 700.
The parade has been a thing of the past since 1939.
John North burnt 126 beautiful circus wagons on the grounds of his American Circus
Corporation on Nov. 21, 1941 to keep rivals from buying them up.
Who owns who?
The Barnum circus failed to make money in 1875 and was sold (the name and wagons) by
auction and bought by "The Flatfoots". In 1881 Bailey bought out the flatfoots
and merged with Barnum.
In 1882 Barnum was "3 score years and 10", but Bailey was only 35. Barnum made
his will that his name could be used for future entertainment.
Friction caused Bailey to retire in 1885 and sell his share to Cooper and Cole. Therefore
Barnum and Bailey only worked together for 3 years, but their names came back together
In 1887 Forepaugh merged with Barnum and operated in Madison Square Gardens. There were 60
elephants of which 60 were used in the "Forepaugh and Barnum" show. In 1890 Adam
Forepaugh dies and James Bailey and James Cooper bought the circus.
Barnum dies in 1891. Bailey now monarch of the circus world. John Bailey dies in 1906.
Ringling buys it in 1907.
In 1925 Charles dies. John abolishes long clown solos.
In 1926 John abolishes wild animal acts.
In 1927 B&B and the Ringling Brothers perform together.
In October 1929, a month before the black Friday, John buys the American Circus
Corporation for $2 million.
In 1929 Ringling Bros and B&B nets $1 million.
In 1929 Mr John's circus agglomeration was the largest and most successful in the world.
In 1932 JR loses control. Samuel Gumpertz takes over.
In 1936JR dies, leaves estate of $23 million.
40 horse wagon.
In the 1890 performance Adam Forepaugh jr. rode the 39 horses. In a 40 horse train they
would take 2 very large horses, weighing 2000 lbs each. They were harnessed with heavy
"breechings", which were attached to a heavy neck yoke to which a heavy 2"
rope was attached, running the entire length of the team, on the forward end of which was
a single-tree. One single horse was hitched in the single tree and lead the team of 39.
The balance of the 38 horses, wearing nothing but a halter, were tied onto this rope, two
abreast, with a pair of lines on the two "wheelers" and a pair of lines, running
to the leader.