Jumbo, the African
bull elephant which came to symbolize the meaning of big, was
over 20 years old by the time he gained international attention
by joining P. T. Barnum's circus in 1882. He had spent the
first two decades of his life in captivity at England's London Zoo
giving rides to thousands of children.
A small, scrawny baby elephant when he was captured in Central
Africa, Jumbo was so lovingly cared for, fed, groomed and trained
by his keeper, Matthew Scott, that he weighed an estimated seven
tons and stood nearly 12 feet tall by the time Barnum sought to
Because of the London Zoological Society's fears that the huge
animal might one day become a danger to the public, Barnum's offer
of $10,000 was readily accepted. However, English citizens
from Queen Victoria to the man in the street protested the potential
loss of what had become considered a national treasure.
Barnum delighted in the "Jumbo-mania" that raged between the two
countries and gained him what he loved most – free publicity.
Eventually, he refused to reconsider the deal, and transported Jumbo
and Scott to America on board a huge freighter, the Assyrian Monarch,
for a 15-day voyage across the Atlantic.
It was on Easter Sunday, 1882, that Jumbo arrived at a dock in
New York City, where he was greeted by thousands. Over the
next three years, Jumbo was the focal point of the Barnum and Bailey
Circus and was viewed by an estimated 20 million people.
Jumbo died Sept. 15, 1885 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, when
he was struck by a freight train. As with many things related
to Barnum, stories vary about Jumbo's demise, whether he deliberately
stood firm in the train's path or attempted to protect a younger
elephant named Tom Thumb.
Determined to continue using Jumbo as an attraction, Barnum contracted
a taxidermy firm to rebuild the giant elephant. His skin,
weighing an estimated 1,500 pounds, was stretched over a large wooden
model. The "restored" Jumbo continued to appear with the circus
for several years.
Eventually, Barnum donated Jumbo's skeleton of more than 2,000 bones to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the mounted hide to Tufts University, where it
remained until it was destroyed by fire in 1975.
Matthew Scott, Jumbo's longtime friend and trainer, was devastated
by Jumbo's demise. He went on to care for small animals at
the Barnum and Bailey Circus' winter headquarters in Bridgeport
and died in 1914 in the city's almshouse.