It’s billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been entertaining fans of all ages since 1919. Their circuses employ a mix of daring feats, amazing animals, and hilarious clowns.
Produced for children of all ages, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus currently has three shows touring North America. Internally, these shows are called the Blue, Red, and Gold tours. They are publically promoted as Legends, Circus XTREME, and Built to Amaze! (respectively). The Blue and Red tours travel the country via trains and are full-fledge three-ring circuses. The Gold tour travels by truck and visits smaller cities that lack venues large enough to host the Blue and Red tours.
The circuses that eventually formed The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus can be traced back to the mid-1800s. In 1907, the Ringling brothers purchased Barnum & Bailey Circus. The two circuses ran independently until 1919. Their first joint performance occurred on March 29 in New York City. Before the merge, Ringling Brothers circus was billed as the “World’s Greatest Shows” while Barnum & Bailey Circus was dubbed “Greatest Show on Earth.”
The circus thrived until the onset of the Great Depression. It then struggled after the war due to competition from movies and television. In 1957, the circus moved from performing under tents to performing inside pre-existing venues. A decade later, the Feld family and a Texas judge bought the circus and made additional improvements to improve its profitability. One such improvement was creating a clown college.
The Feld family sold Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to Mattel in 1971. The family bought it back in 1984. The Feld family eventually created Feld Entertainment to run the circus. Feld Entertainment also produces Disney on Ice.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus goes to great lengths to care for the animals used in their show. The company employs a full-time veterinary staff and a veterinary technician travels with each tour. Most of the dogs used in the show are rescues. In 1995, the Center for Elephant Conservation opened in Florida. The circus created the facility to breed and research Asian Elephants.
On July 6, 1944, The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus experienced a tragic fire. Known as the “Hartford Circus Fire,” the conflagration killed more than 150 and injured dozens more. One of the survivors of the fire was actor Charles Nelson Reilly.