Adam Forepaugh: Bane of Barnum


Today is the birthday of the great circus impresario (and Barnum competitor) Adam Forepaugh. (1831-1890).

Forepaugh made his initial fortune selling horses to the U.S. government during the Civil War. He then found himself in the circus business when the Tom King Excelsior Circus found itself unable to pay for the 44 horses they’d purchased. Forepaugh took partial possession of the show. He then bough up several other circuses and changed their names to variants on his own. In 1869, Forepaugh’s became the first circus to put the menagerie under a separate tent so that patrons too proper to come to the circus itself would at least buy tickets to the zoo. That would soon become an industry-wide practice. Throughout the ’70s and 80s’ Forepaugh ran neck and neck with Barnum for supremacy in the big top line, battling him for territory all across the country. Their most famous squabble was over who had the more authentic White Elephant. (Barnum’s was real, but splotchy. Forepaugh’s was faked, but whiter). In ’89, Forepaugh sold his circus performers to James A. Bailey and his train cars to the Ringling Brothers. Thus, in a way, Forepaugh indirectly merged with his rival when it all became one show in 1919. By then, he’s been dead for almost 30 years.

And now, look at this darn poster. Do you believe those old-fashioned cars could do all that? I sure do!


To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 


And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


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