Stunning Colorful Photos of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the Late 1940s

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, affectionately known as "The Greatest Show on Earth," holds a remarkable place in American entertainment history.

These fascinating Kodachrome photographs were taken by Charles Weaver Cushman in the 1940s.

The foundation of the circus can be found in the pioneering efforts of several prominent individuals. Entertainment visionary Phineas Taylor Barnum created "P.T." Established. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome in 1871.

This circus was notable for mixing traditional European circus acts with groups of exotic animals and captivating curiosities.

Concurrently, the Ringling Brothers—Albert, Otto, Alfred, Charles, and John—entered the world of circus entertainment in the late 19th century.

He operated different circus ventures before eventually joining the army and officially forming "Ringling Brothers World's Greatest Shows" in 1884.

Ringling's Circus initially focused on equestrian performances and later included acrobatics and other traditional circus acts.

The Ringlings purchased Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth in 1907 and ran the circus separately until 1919.

By that time, Charles Edward Ringling and John Nicholas Ringling were the only remaining brothers of the five who had founded the circus.

They decided it was too difficult to run both circuses independently, and on March 29, 1919, the "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Show" debuted in New York City.

Posters announced, "The Ringling Brothers World's Greatest Shows and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth are now combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions."

Charles E. Ringling died in 1926, but the circus flourished during the Roaring Twenties.

In 1929, the American Circus Corporation signed a contract to perform in New York City. John Ringling purchased American Circus, owner of five circuses, for $1.7 million.

In 1938, the circus made Frank Buck, a famous adventurer and animal collector, an attractive offer to tour as its star attraction and enter the show astride an elephant.

The circus suffered losses during the Great Depression during the 1930s but managed to stay in business.

After John Nicholas Ringling's death, his nephew, John Ringling North, managed the indebted circus twice, the first time from 1937 to 1943.

Despite travel restrictions imposed as a result of World War II, the circus was granted special dispensation by President Roosevelt in 1942 to use the railroad for operations.

In the 1950s, there was a massive train system with three separate train loads that brought the main shows to the big cities.

The first train had 22 cars and tents and staff to set them up; The second section consisted of 28 cars and included canvasmen, ushers and sideshow workers; The third section contained 19 sleeping cars for the cast.

After 1957, circuses no longer performed under their own portable "big top" tents, instead using permanent venues such as sports stadiums and arenas.

In 1967, Irwin Feld and his brother Israel, along with Houston judge Roy Hofheinz, purchased the circus from the Ringling family.

In 1971, Felds and Hofheinz sold the circus to Mattel, and bought it back from the toy company in 1981.

Since Irwin Feld's death in 1984, the circus has been a part of Feld Entertainment, an international entertainment firm headed by his son Kenneth Feld, headquartered in Ellenton, Florida.

Faced with weak attendance, numerous animal rights protests, and high operating costs, the circus played its final show at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 21, 2017, and closed after 146 years.

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