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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus history from 1841 to 2017

When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey wrapped its final circus tour, "Out of This World!" at NYCB Live's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 21, 2017, the curtain fell on decades of iconic entertainment marked with much nostalgia and lingering criticism. Here's a look at key moments in the circus' history.


Barnum's American Museum of curios in New York,
Credit: Getty Images/William England

P.T. Barnum, founder of one of the forerunners to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, creates a museum of oddities in Manhattan with displays including a flea circus, ventriloquists. In later years, he added appearances by Siamese twins Chang and Eng, Grizzly Adams’ trained bears and 25-inch-tall General Tom Thumb.


American showman P.T. Barnum is shown in 1882
Credit: AP

P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome debuts under a tent in Brooklyn. (Barnum, pictured, lent his name to an existing circus.) This is the year cited for the founding of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It wasn't until a decade later that Barnum teamed up with well-known circus man James Bailey, creating yet another forerunner to what would become Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.


circa 1890: Jumbo, the famous elephant which belonged
Credit: Getty Images/London Stereoscopic Co.

Jumbo the elephant makes his debut in the new Barnum & Bailey Circus. He would later march across the newly built Brooklyn Bridge to prove its strength.


circa 1880: The showman Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810
Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

The showman P. T. Barnum dies, leaving his circus empire worth $5 million dollars. Bailey purchased the circus, then died in 1906. The next year, the Ringling Brothers, operators of an independent circus, purchased the Barnum & Bailey show, which the brothers ran separately from the Ringling circus until 1919, when the two shows were combined.


Three-year-old Richard Caglione sheds tears as a stranger,
Credit: AP/Anthony Camerano

Despite wartime restrictions on rail travel, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus receives special dispensation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The famous clown Emmett Kelly was a performer, as were the daredevil "flying" Wallendas.


Flames shoot from the top of the main
Credit: AP

In Hartford, Connecticut, a Ringling tent catches fire and falls atop the audience, killing 160.


A lion cub looks on as John Ringling-North,
Credit: AP

Brothers Irvin and Israel Feld, along with Roy Hofheinz, pictured center, and others, purchase the Ringling Bros. Circus.


"Mala" and her baby elephant "Shirley" nuzzle inside
Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

Feld Entertainment establishes the Center for Elephant Conservation, a breeding farm and retirement facility in Polk City, Florida.


Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus comes
Credit: Feld Media/Heinz Kluetmeier

Johnathan Lee Iverson, a native New Yorker, is hired as the first African-American ringmaster.


NEW YORK - APRIL 02: A performer rides
Credit: Getty Images/Scott Wintrow

The ASPCA and other groups file a lawsuit accusing Feld Entertainment of mistreating its Asian elephants.


Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the
Credit: Ringling Bros.

The tall-haired Bello Nock, a daredevil clown, headlines the show.


Amanda Fortino, Campaign Coordinator for PETA, and Ellie
Credit: Newsday/Mahala Gaylord

After a series of legal battles, animal rights groups end up paying a combined total of $25 million in settlements to Feld Entertainment for bringing what U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan characterized as “groundless and unreasonable” litigation.


The elephants at Ringling Bros. and Barnum and
Credit: Heinz Kluetmeier

Feld Entertainment announces its elephants will cease performing and retire to the Center for Elephant Conservation.


In this Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 photo, Chairman
Credit: AP/Tamara Lush

Citing a sharp downturn in attendance, Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld announces the final shows of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, including the May 21 finale at NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.


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