P.T. Barnum

Entrepreneur / Showman
Date Of Birth:
5 July 1810
Date Of Death:
7 April 1891
Place Of Birth:
Bethel, Connecticut
Best Known As:
19th century American huckster

Name at birth: Phineas Taylor Barnum

The name of P.T. Barnum is synonymous with showmanship, marketing and hucksterism in early America. P.T. Barnum started out running a newspaper in Danbury, Connecticut before he moved to New York in search of bigger things. In 1841 he bought the five-story Scudder's American Museum in New York City, and promptly turned it into an exhibition hall for the presentation of "freaks" such as "The Feejee Mermaid" and the ultra-diminutive little person General Tom Thumb (real name: Charles Stratton). His idea worked, and the money rolled in. A brilliant and shameless promoter, P.T. Barnum weathered accusations of fraud with the attitude that there was no such thing as bad press, and he became one of the richest men in America as he promoted a string of successful stars and offbeat acts: the European opera singer Jenny Lind, Jumbo the Elephant and conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. In 1871, Barnum opened a circus, billed as "The Greatest Show On Earth." In 1881 he merged with competitor James Bailey, forming Barnum & Bailey's Circus. Eventually it became known as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and remained one of the world's best-known circuses until it closed down amid sagging sales in 2017 after a 146-year run. P.T. Barnum was played by Hugh Jackman in the 2017 feature musical The Greatest Showman, and by Beau Bridges in the 1999 TV movie P.T. Barnum, and by Wallace Beery in the 1934 feature The Mighty Barnum. He was also played by Jim Dale in the original Broadway show Barnum, which ran for 854 performances from 1980-82.
Extra Credit:

P.T. Barnum is frequently cited as the source of the quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute” — although it’s unclear if Barnum ever actually said it… P.T. Barnum married the former Charity Hallett (nicknamed Chairy) on November 8, 1829. They had four children: Caroline (1830-1911), Helen (1840-1920), Frances (1842-1844), and Pauline (1846-1917)… After Charity died in 1873, Barnum married Nancy Fish in 1874.

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