Biography of Phineas T. Barnum
Famous American Biographies

PHINEAS T. BARNUM, the greatest showman the world has ever seen, was born at Danbury, Connecticut, July 5, 1810. At the age of eighteen years he began business on his own account. He opened a retail fruit and confectionery house, including a barrel of ale, in one part of an old carriage house. He spent fifty dollars in fitting up the store and the stock cost him seventy dollars. Three years later he put in a full stock, such as is generally carried in a country store, and the same year he started a Democratic newspaper, known as the "Herald of Freedom." He soon found himself in jail under a sixty days' sentence for libel. During the winter of 1834-5 he went to New York and began soliciting business for several Chatham street houses. In 1835 he embarked in the show business at Niblo's Garden, having purchased the celebrated "Joice Heth" for one thousand dollars. He afterward engaged the celebrated athlete, Sig. Vivalia, and Barnum made his "first appearance on any stage," acting as a "super" to Sig. Vivalia on his opening night. He became ticket seller, secretary and treasurer of Aaron Turner's circus in 1836 and traveled with it about the country. His next venture was the purchase ui a steamboat on the Mississippi, and engaged a theatrical company to show in the principal towns along that river. In 1840 he opened Vaux Hail Garden, New York, with variety performances, and introduced the celebrated jig dancer, John Diamond. to the public. The next year he quit the show business and settled down in New York as agent of Sear's Pictorial Illustration of the Bible, but a few months later again leased Vaux Hall. In September of the same year he again left the business, and became ''puff" writcr for the Bowery Amphitheater. In December he bought the Scudder Museum, and a year later introduced the celebrated Toni Thumb to the world, taking him to England in 1844, and remaining there three years. He then returned to New York, and in 1849, through James Hall Wilson, he engaged the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind, to come to this country and make a tour under his management. He also had sent the Swiss Bell Ringers to America in 1844. He became owner of the Baltimore Museum and the Lyceum and Museum at Philadelphia. In 1850 he brought a dozen elephants from Ceylon to make a tour of this country, and in 1851 sent the "Bateman Children" to London. During 1851 and 1852 he traveled as a temperance lecturer, and became president of a bank at Pequonnock, Connecticut. In 1852 he started a weekly pictorial paper known as the " Illustrated News." In 1865 his Museum was destroyed by fire, and he immediately leased the Winter Garden Theatre, where he played his company until he opened his own Museum. This was destroyed by fire in 1868, and he then purchased an interest in the George Wood Museum.

After dipping into politics to some extent, he began his career as a really great showman in 1871. Three years later he erected an immense circular building in New York, in which he produced his panoramas. He has frequently appeared as a lecturer, some times on temperance, and some times on other topics, among which were ''Humbugs of the World," ''Struggles and Triumphs," etc. He was owner of the immense menagerie and circus known as the "Greatest Show on Earth," and his fame cxtended throughout Europe and America. He died in 1891.

A Biographical Record
Of Schuyler County, New York
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
New York and Chicago 1903.


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