If you wanted to see a mermaid, a giant, or a bearded lady, P.T. Barnum would gladly grant your wish. During the 1800s, Barnum was one of America’s best-known showmen. He prided himself on being a master of the art of “humbug,” or fooling people.
Barnum’s show-business career began in New York City in 1835, when he exhibited an old woman whom he said was George Washington’s nurse. He claimed that she was 161 years old. Though Barnum’s story was false, people flocked to see the old woman anyway.
Later, Barnum opened his American Museum, where he displayed a variety of heavily publicized attractions, some real and many fake. Among the most popular attractions were Chang and Eng, Siamese twins joined at the waist, and a dancing midget who became famous as General Tom Thumb.
Barnum also presented genuinely talented performers, such as Jenny Lind, the Swedish singer. He sent her around the country on a successful concert tour. In 1871, Barnum launched a traveling circus that later featured Jumbo, which he claimed to be the world’s largest elephant.
Barnum’s circus merged with others owned by J.A.Bailey and the Ringling Brothers to form today’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, “the greatest show on earth.”
P.T. Barnum was elected to the Connecticut state legislature and also served a term as mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.