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Bailey, James Anthony (04 July 1847–11 April 1906), circus owner, was born in Detroit, Michigan. His surname was McGinness or McGinnis. Details about his parents are unknown. He was orphaned by the age of eight. At eleven or twelve he ran away from his sister’s home and began living on his own in Pontiac, Michigan. He began his circus career in 1860, doing odd jobs for Frederick H. Bailey, the advance man of the Robinson and Lake Circus; Bailey took such a liking to the young lad that he not only asked him to become his protégé on the road but had him adopt his name as well....

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Barnum, P. T. (05 July 1810–07 April 1891), showman, was born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of Philo F. Barnum, a farmer and storekeeper, and Irena Taylor. While attending public school in Bethel, Barnum peddled candy and gingerbread. He later wrote that he had always been interested in arithmetic and money....

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Beatty, Clyde Raymond (10 June 1903–19 July 1965), animal trainer and circus owner, was born in Bainbridge, Ohio, the son of James Edward Beatty and Margaret Everhart, farmers. After first trying at age thirteen to run away to join the circus, he succeeded at fifteen, following his freshman year at Bainbridge High School....

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Adam Forepaugh. Center, with Peter Sells, left, and Lewis Sells. Chromolithograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-5230).

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Forepaugh, Adam (28 February 1831–22 January 1890), circus owner, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Forepaugh, a butcher and veterinary surgeon, and Susannah Heimer. After leaving Philadelphia at the age of sixteen, he worked his way westward to Cincinnati and eventually earned a small fortune as a livestock speculator. After returning to his hometown he began to invest in omnibus lines while buying and selling horses for horsecar lines in New York City, where he next set up business....

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North, John Ringling (14 August 1903–04 June 1985), circus owner and producer, was born in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the son of Henry Whitestone North, a railroad engineer, and Ida Ringling, the only sister of the famed Ringling brothers whose circus he eventually came to control. North attended public schools in Baraboo, graduating from high school in 1921. He attended the University of Wisconsin and Yale but left the latter school in 1924 to marry Jane Connelly. They had no children and divorced in 1927. North worked briefly for an investment house on Wall Street and then as a real estate salesman in Sarasota, Florida, for John Ringling (his uncle and the man for whom he was named). When Ringling died in 1936, control of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus passed into the hands of creditors. Childless, Ringling left the bulk of his estate to the state of Florida, but in a codicil contested by other members of the family he named his nephew John Ringling North as executor. Using that position as leverage, North first convinced the other surviving members of the family, who owned a majority interest in the circus stock, to name him president of the circus corporation for the next five years. He then acquired a loan that allowed the family to pay off the circus’s creditors and regain control. A labor dispute during 1938, the first year of his management, left the circus crippled and helpless in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and threatened to ruin North’s chances of saving the circus. In response he took the Ringling show off the road for the remainder of the season and sent its acts out with another circus also owned by the corporation....

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Rice, Dan (23 January 1823–22 February 1900), clown and circus owner, was born in New York City, the son of Daniel McLaren, a grocer, and Elizabeth Crum, a Methodist minister’s daughter. After Elizabeth’s parents had the runaway marriage annulled, “Rice” (there are conflicting theories on the choice of name) remained in New York, attending school until his debut, at age nine, as a jockey. After 1837 Rice worked his way west to Pittsburgh and south to Kentucky as stable driver, jockey, hackney coachman, and riverboat gambler....

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Ringling, Charles (02 December 1864–03 December 1926), circus founder and manager, was born Karl Edward Ringling in McGregor, Iowa, the son of August Ringling (formerly Rüngeling), a harness maker, and Marie Salome Juliar. Charles Ringling and four of his brothers were inspired to enter show business after seeing a performance of ...

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Sadler, Harley (04 September 1892–14 October 1954), tent show actor-manager, oilman, and Texas legislator, was born near Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, the son of Junius E. and Lula T. Sadler. Junius, after several years of marginally successful farming, settled down to the life of a general merchant in Stamford, Texas, where Harley first demonstrated the interest in show business that was to dominate his life. With no training beyond participation in high school plays and the town band, he left home before graduation to join a small carnival as a musician....