Phineas Taylor Barnum, 1810-91, American showman, b. Bethel, Conn. As a youth Barnum worked at diverse sales jobs and managed a boardinghouse. He made his first sensation in 1835 when he bought and exhibited Jocie Heth, a slave who claimed she was 161 years old (after her death it was found that she was about 80 years old) and had been the nurse of George Washington.
In 1842 he opened the American Museum in New York City and immediately became famous for his extravagant advertising and his exhibits of freaks. Among his great attractions were the Fejee Mermaid, “General Tom Thumb” who was viewed by over 20 million people, and the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng.
In 1850, Barnum managed the American tour of the Swedish singer Jenny Lind and, with his talent for publicity, made it a huge financial success for her and for himself.
In 1855 he retired from show business; he served as mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., and in the Connecticut legislature. Driven into bankruptcy by unwise business ventures, he reopened the American Museum and then organized his famous circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which opened in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1871.
In 1881 he
merged with his most successful
competitor, James A. Bailey, and
under the name Barnum and Bailey the
circus continued for a generation
after Barnum's death. The stellar
attraction of the circus was Jumbo,
the elephant that Barnum purchased
from the London Zoo despite the
protests of English elephant
fanciers, including Queen Victoria.