P.T. Barnum - Rockstar of his Day


P.T. Barnum is the man known as the greatest showman. His full name was Phineas Taylor Barnum, and he was born on July 5 of 1810, one of six siblings. He started school at around age six and became very good at math, which he used to get out of doing his chores on the family farm. When his father died the fifteen year old Barnum had to take care of his family, working many different jobs over the years, before he started publishing a weekly newspaper.[1] When Barnum was 21 years old, he managed to lease a slave called Joice Heath, claiming that she was 161 years old, and had even been a nurse of George Washington! In reality Joice was only eighty years old when she died in 1836, but Barnum’s claims were all part of his ability as a showman. [2]

In the days before Barnum public entertainment wasn’t as big as it later became. Barnum’s knack for entertaining people was legendary. In the 1840s he bought a museum in Manhattan, filled it with large exhibits of real stuffed animals, and opened its doors to the public.[3] It brought in a lot of money as its doors remained open for twenty three years, drawing thousands of people to walk among the hundreds of thousands of exhibits spread out across four different buildings. They even had an aquarium open to the public and a theater. He later put on a show - a circus. P.T. Barnum helped invent the spectacle of massed entertainment, and he wasn’t afraid to make up fictional stories about the people he employed because it became their stage personas. P.T. Barnum entertained millions, he was a Rockstar of his day.

[1] “P.T. Barnum: American Showman.” Britannica.com (Accessed July 6, 2019) https://www.britannica.com/biography/P-T-Barnum

[2] Flatley, Helen. “The Darker Side of How P.T. Barnum Became ‘The Greatest Showman.’” The Vintage News.com (Accessed July 6, 2019) https://www.thevintagenews.com/2019/01/06/greatest-showman/

[3] “Barnum’s American Museum.” Lostmuseum.cuny.edu. (Accessed July 6, 2019) https://lostmuseum.cuny.edu/archive/barnums-american-museum

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