Appreciating all that makes America special

Americana: Ringling Brothers Circus

For well over 100 years, Ringling Brothers circuses have been The Greatest Show on Earth. Uploaded by

My header isn’t big enough for the full name: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. If you think that’s long, look at the name as it appeared in the late 1880s: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.”

P.T. Barnum got the ball rolling (a little elephant pun) when he created his circus in 1871. James Bailey formed a competing circus four years later, and the competitors merged in 1881. The Ringlings formed their company in 1884, and finally purchased Barnum & Bailey in 1907. The two operations continued to tour separately until 1919, when they merged into the circus we know today.

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The company runs two circus productions concurrently, the Red Tour and the Blue Tour. The tours crisscross the country in special mile-long trains with approximately 60 passenger cars and 40 freight cars. Though everyone rightly associates Ringling Brothers with mammoth elephants, it’s also well-known for its clowns – the most famous being Emmett Kelly, whose “Weary Willie” is probably the most famous clown ever.

With acrobats, trapeze artists, clowns, high wire artists, and a wide variety of wild animals, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey has earned the right to call itself “The Greatest Show on Earth”…


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  1. Really? This is animal abuse is a great American thing? Really? Take a look at these:

    I would think this outdated and abusive event would be on the list of Embarrassing American Things.

    • Yes, this is a Great American Thing. I certainly don’t condone animal abuse, but the Ringling Brothers Circus has given entertainment to untold thousands of people, and exposed them to the very animals you’re concerned about. It’s neither outdated nor abusive, and though your concern for animals is admirable, your perspective is badly flawed.

  2. Robin… Did you watch the videos? How is exposing people to animals who have been abused just moments before the show a good thing for the people or the animals?

    They can have the show without the animals… or the abuse. Watch the videos I supplied and then tell me it’s a great American tradition. It won’t surprise me if you do… but I want you to condone it publicly.