Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in an agriculture rich area of Connecticut. A good student and later an astute businessman, he had the gift of making money. He opened Barnum’s American Museum in New York City, the city’s most popular attraction for 23 years from 1842 until 1865. After going into the circus business — at age 61 — he joined forces with James Bailey and his Traveling London Circus for a combined operation as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Barnum died in 1891. He was a 19th century man, having lived and died exclusively in that century. In his time he established the template for self-promotion, showmanship, publicity, flamboyance and hucksterism still followed by his spiritual descendants today.
In this article from the December 1961 issue of American Heritage, artifacts and ephemera that Barnum saved for his daughter in a scrapbook are shown, celebrating his triumphant series of shows in London in 1889.
For all of his humbugs, fakes, exaggerations and outright lies, Barnum is now renowned as a master showman and public manipulator. It is also interesting that the most famous saying attributed to him, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” was never said by Barnum, but by a man suing him. I guess that pithy remark has been sealed to him because it sounds like something he might say. It is “just so P.T. Barnum.”
Copyright © 1961 American Heritage