Born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut, Barnum attended grammar school and then became editor of an anticlerical newspaper, The Herald of Freedom. He moved to New York City in 1834, however, and there decided to rewarding, he opened a New York museum in 1842 featuring natural history exhibits and "curiosities," freaks, music, and drama. A main attraction at the museum was "Egress," which many patrons flocked to see, only to find themselves outside.
Barnum toured Europe, in 1844, with a midget billed as "General Tom Thumb," and in 1850, he promoted a long concert tour in the United States for singer Jenny Lind. Both ventures proved financially successful.
Then, during a period of retirement from show business, he served in the Connecticut legislature (1867-69) and in 1875 became mayor of Bridgeport. In 1871, Barnum announced the opening of the "Greatest Show onEarth," which toured the nation successfully. After much success over a ten year period, however, competition forced him to combine forces withJames A. Bailey (1881) to form the Great Barnum and Bailey Circus. Two, three, or even four rings of activity were featured. And in 1882, Jumbo, a huge performing elephant became the star of the new circus.
Barnum gained universal recognition as a man with a genius for showmanship. He died in Philadelphia on April 7, 1891.