9 facts about the Ringling Brothers Circus

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform its final show May 21, putting its amazing history to rest. We’ve covered how people are flocking to buy tickets for the final shows and what families can do for fun when the circus is over, so today we’ll dive into the show’s history and how it got to be “the greatest show on Earth.”

Did you know…

…The Circus was a huge supporter of libraries and reading. Through its Reading With Ringling Bros. program it gave free tickets to kids who set and met ambitious reading goals. Its “Ambassadors of Laughter” program often had performers and clowns make special appearances in libraries near circus stops.

…The Ringling Bros. Children’s Fund donated millions of dollars to help provide care for children with cancer. The Fund made donations in cities where the circus performed and brought performers to children’s hospitals.

…There’s still time! You can get tickets to see the final shows of the circus before it ends. Shows remain in Maryland, Connecticut and more. The final shows will be at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The final curtain is at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 21.

Elephants at the Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida eat 2.5 tons of hay per day.

…There were seven Ringling brothers, but only five started the circus back in 1884. Two were dancers, one was a singer and two played instruments. So they were basically an early version of the Jackson 5. (The other two brothers joined a few years later.)

…The original act was called the “Ringing Bros. Variety Performance” before later becoming the “Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.” Which was a mouthful.

…Before they joined forces, the Ringlings didn’t want to compete directly with the Barnum & Bailey circus so they agreed to stick to the Midwest while Barnum & Bailey would handle New York. According to WisconsinHistory.org, that arrangement lasted 12 years, until the brothers bought Barnum & Bailey in 1907. But it wasn’t until World War I that they joined to form “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

…The circus was featured in Hollywood. A 1952 movie from Paramount Pictures called The Greatest Show On Earth featured Charlton Heston playing the manager and James Stewart playing the role of a clown. A New York Times review from the time praised it as “a piece of entertainment that will delight movie audiences for years.” It wasn’t too far off: For a cost of $4 million, it brought in $36 million at the box office. That’s good enough to make it the number 61 highest-grossing movie of all-time. (Gone with the Wind is number one at a cool $1.75 billion.)

…You can own a piece of the circus. A former circus clown is auctioning off posters, toys and more in Chicago this May. Here’s how you know it’s good stuff: The clown was friends with the widow of Henry Ringling, one of the original founders.

Does your family have an unforgettable memory from attending the circus? We’d love to hear it on our Twitter page or share it with us on Facebook.