Phineas Taylor Barnum, known as Americas Greatest Showman, was born on July 5, 1810 in Danbury, Connecticut. He had a happy childhood which he cherished for the rest of his life. At 19, Barnum started a career in the grocery business, but his love for amusement drew him into show business.
Barnum began his career in show business by purchasing Joice Heth, a woman who had been a slave for General Washingtons father and was believed to be 161 years old. He exhibited her in different places around the United States as the oldest living women before her death a year later.
After showing various other curiosities, Barnum bought the American Museum in New York City in 1841. The museums attractions included ventriloquists, jugglers, educated dogs, dioramas, Albinos, giants, dwarfs, and many other things of interest.
Under Barnums management, the museum grew in size and popularity. The lecture room was enlarged and soon held shows everyday. The museum was particularly crowded on holidays when people would bring their dinner and spend the day. Barnum did not like this because it prevented a steady turnover in museum patrons. To solve this problem, Barnum hung a sign that read To the Egress above the exit door. The curious visitors did not want to miss anything, but when they went through the door, they found the strange animal they had expected did not exist, and they had been tricked out the door. The only way back in was to pay again.
Barnum often exhibited giants and dwarfs together. Anna Swan was billed as 8 feet, the tallest women in the world and paired with Commodore Nutt, who was 29 inches in height and the shortest man in the world. Other giants included the French Giant, Monsieur Bihin and the Arabian Giant, Colonel Goshen. These two men were jealous of each other and often got into fights.
The most famous of Barnums attractions was a dwarf by the name of Charles S. Stratton, also known as General Tom Thumb. Thumb came to the museum while still a young child after Barnum heard of him through a friend. He was quite intelligent, but he never exceeded the height of a boy of four. Tom Thumb rose in fame and toured the United States before going to England where he met Queen Victoria. He lived a happy life and married another dwarf by the name of Lavinia. The couple toured with two other dwarfs before settling down.
Once Barnums museum was well established, he decided he would settle down and built a home in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It took two years to build the famous Iranistan, which looked more like a palace then a house. Barnum chose a location near the train tracks because he wanted people to see it when the train went by. To garner more attention, Barnum bought an elephant and hired a man to dress in Arabic fashion. The man and elephant would plow the yard four times a day on schedule with the train passing. Sadly the home burnt in 1857, a smoking pipe that had been left on the couch is thought to have caused the fire.
Barnum did not always have the best of luck and was rather superstitious. On two separate occasions his museum was destroyed by fire. The first fire took place on July 13, 1865. Barnum believed that is was because of the thirteen that luck didn't go his way. After the fire Barnum established another museum that was also destroyed by fire on March 3, 1868. After that fire, he gave up on museums and started a circus.
Barnum was interested in politics and throughout his life he held numerous political positions. In 1875 he became Mayor of Bridgeport, which he held until the next year, 1876. He remained in Bridgeport until his death on Monday, April 6, 1891 at the age of 80. His memory was honored with a statue that was erected in Bridgeport by family and friends in 1893.