P.T. Barnum, or Phineas Taylor Barnum in full, was an American showman. He was born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut, and died on April 7, 1891, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is known for his sensational forms to present and publicize the three-ring circus, the public museum and the musical concert.
P.T. Barnum Facts
1. Barnum was a natural salesman
When he was only 12 years old, he was already making money from selling snacks and cherry rum to soldiers, an interesting fact about P. T. Barnum. After moving to New York City, later on, he was involved in a variety of businesses. Some of those were newspaper publishing and even trying to run a boarding house.
2. He found his passion for promotion by exhibiting a woman who claimed to be 161 years old
In the year of 1835, P.T. Barnum discovered that he had a true passion for promoting things. He was paid $1,000 to exhibit an elderly slave called Joice Heth. She claimed to be 161 years old and that she used to be George’s Washington’s nurse. Barnum took advantage of the opportunity and toured her in different venues throughout the Northeast of the country. He collected around $1,500 per week. Later, this was known to have been a hoax.
3. A museum in New York City that he purchased was transformed into an exhibition of the bizarre
P.T. Barnum bought John Scudder’s American Museum in New York City and renamed it Barnum’s American Museum. He undertook the task of transforming it into a carnival that exhibited freaks, bizarre objects and sensational attractions. To him, people had a natural curiosity that they needed to satisfy with a lighter mood that his museum could provide.
An interesting P. T. Barnum fact is that his museum eventually expanded to 850,000 exhibits. Some of the objects there, such as the “Feejee Mermaid”, were of dubious authenticity but it did not keep people from coming.
4. Barnum traveled the world looking for unusual people or objects
To satisfy his public and their interest in unusual and bizarre things, he traveled the world. Barnum was in search of curiosities, whether they were genuine, fake, alive or dead. This caused him to receive international attention. However, his exaggerated publicity and repetitive advertising were also important elements that helped him get noticed.
5. P. T. Barnum had an audience with Queen Victoria
Charles Sherwood Stratton was a four-year-old boy who was only 25 inches tall and weighed 15 pounds. Barnum met him in 1842 and trained him to sing and dance. He then revealed the boy to the public as General Tom Thumb. On a tour in Europe, they had the opportunity to meet with Queen Victoria from the United Kingdom. Abraham Lincoln also received the pair.
6. Phineas Taylor called himself the “Prince of Humbugs”
As time went by, Phineas Taylor, or P.T. Barnum, became more and more famous. His audacity and show businesses earned him large sums. He lived in an Oriental mansion named Iranistan. It was three stories high and was built on a 17-acre estate in Connecticut. Some of his house guests were Mark Twain, Matthew Arnolds and Horace Greely. He called himself the “Prince of Humbugs”.
7. He made more than $500,000 by promoting an opera soprano singer
Barnum wanted to evolve from promoting freaks to impresario of more artistic attractions. His first attempt at this transition was promoting a Swedish opera singer named Jenny Lind. He baptized her the “Swedish Nightingale” and offered her $1,000 per performance for 150 shows in Canada and the United States.
To promote Lind’s show he did everything he could think of, such as newspaper stories and competitions. It was a massive publicity campaign. By the end of the tour, he earned more than $500,000, an interesting P. T. Barnum fact.
8. Lind and Barnum were suspected of being involved romantically
Barnum married Charity Hallett, a childhood friend, and they stayed together for 44 years. They had four daughters. However, there were rumors that Lind and Barnum had a romantic relationship. This was portrayed in the 2017 movie “The Greatest Showman”. Nonetheless, many reports indicated that their relationship was entirely related to business. The Swedish singer married a pianist named Otto Goldschmidt in 1852 and stayed together until her death.
9. Two of his museums burned down
In 1865, Barnum’s American Museum suffered a fire and completely burned down. Because of this, P.T. opened a new one at another location nearby. However, this museum was also destroyed by a fire in March of 1868.
10. 1875 was the year that “The Greatest Show on Earth” was born
After Barnum decided to retire from the museum business, he got together with two circus owners: Dan Castello and William C. Coup. They launched together Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum in 1871. Four years later, in 1875, Barnum became the sole owner of this enterprise and named it “The Greatest Show on Earth”. It was him that made the circus in the United States a gigantic spectacle.
Later, in 1881, he teamed up with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson, other circus managers. Together they introduced “Jumbo”, a 6.5-ton elephant, which was a hit until he died in 1885.
11. P.T. Barnum revealed some of his deceits in an autobiography
In 1855, P.T. Barnum wrote and published an autobiography. It was titled “The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself”. In the book, he revealed some of his deceits, which earned him many critics. A few years later, he placed it in the public domain so whoever wanted to print the book could do so. An interesting fact about P. T. Barnum is that this was something he did more for publicity than for earning money.
12. Barnum was also mayor of Bridgeport at some point
He was not only a showman, but he also sought to take part in politics. In 1875, Barnum served multiple terms in the Connecticut legislature and was also elected mayor of Bridgeport. During that time, he founded the Bridgeport Hospital and was named its first president.
P.T. Barnum is considered as one of the greatest showmen in history. His innovative ways of promoting his businesses created such curiosity and interest that helped him popularize many things. However, many of his practices were illegitimate, since he often publicized things that were fake, in exchange of money and fame.
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