Under the big top: The history of the Barnum & Bailey Circus quiz

By: Bambi Turner
Image: youtube

About This Quiz

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see amazing acts under the big top! We've got wild beasts from around the world, death-defying stunts and even clowns to tickle your funny bone. Punch your ticket -- it's time for the Barnum & Bailey Circus history quiz!

Which of these entertainers was the first to enter the circus game?

He may not have top billing, but it was James Bailey who first entered the circus world. He joined the Robinson and Lake's Old Time Circus, and then the Cooper and Bailey Circus, way back in the 1860s. Barnum loaned his name to a local circus company starting in 1871, and five of the seven Ringling brothers started their circus act in 1884.

Which of these creatures helped Barnum & Bailey join forces to create a single circus?

P.T. Barnum was seriously jealous when Bailey picked up an infant elephant to display at his traveling show. Barnum offered $100,000 for the creature, but Bailey refused to sell. The two rivals decided to join forces instead, forming the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1881.

Where did P.T. Barnum start his legendary American Museum?

P.T. Barnum didn't enter the circus arena until later in life, but he was no stranger to showbiz. He had around half a million objects on display at his American Museum, which operated from 1842 to 1868. One famous exhibit directed visitors to hurry and see the famous egress -- pushing them towards the exit, where they would have to pay to reenter.

Which of the three circus namesakes brought the "Greatest Show on Earth" tagline?

Barnum was a legendary showman. When he started his first circus, he called it Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus -- aka The Greatest Show on Earth. When he joined forces with Bailey and the RInglings, he brought his famous tagline with him.

Barnum set his circus up at this venue -- now known as Madison Square Garden.

Barnum preferred a permanent structure to house his famous exhibits, setting his circus up at the New York Hippodrome in 1874. The structure today is known as Madison Square Garden.

What was the name of Barnum and Bailey's most famous elephant, which they bought in 1882?

The circus had a major hit on their hands when they purchased an enormous elephant named Jumbo in 1882. In the first six weeks after he was purchased, Jumbo earned Barnum & Bailey $336,000 -- the equivalent of millions today.

When did the Ringling Brothers buy Barnum & Bailey?

Barnum died in 1891, but it wasn't until Bailey passed in 1906 that the Ringling brothers decided to buy their biggest rival. They picked up the Barnum & Bailey enterprise in 1907 and kept the two enterprises separate for more than a decade, finally forming The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919.

How many employees did Ringling Bros. have in 1910?

By 1910, Ringling Bros. had around 1,000 employees, 26 elephants and 92 railcards. They also owned Barnum & Bailey, which had around the same number of employees and holdings.

True or false: Barnum & Bailey invented special train cars to carry their circus.

The railroad brought big changes to the circus. Before trains, circuses traveled by horse-drawn carriage, limiting how far they could travel. Even normal train cars weren't a perfect fit -- have you ever tried to load an elephant into a train car? In 1872, the first train built entirely of special circus cars carried the Barnum & Bailey Circus across the United States.

True or false: Most major circuses had just one ring until the 1900s.

Both Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey used at least two rings throughout the 19th century to boost customer satisfaction. When Barnum and Bailey joined forces in 1881, they went to three rings. By 1891, some circuses were using a whopping five rings.

P.T. Barnum used Jumbo the elephant to prove the strength of what structure in 1883?

P.T. Barnum marched a crowd of animals, including the famous Jumbo, across the Brooklyn Bridge to prove its strength in 1883. Sadly, poor Jumbo was killed by a speeding train in 1885.

True or false: Barnum claimed there was a sucker born every minute.

This quote is often attributed to Barnum, but there's no proof he ever said it. In fact, Barnum preferred his audiences to be in on the joke, and once stated, "The people like to be humbugged."

Jumbo is still the mascot for which school?

Tufts University claimed the famous Jumbo as their mascot. After the creature died, Barnum had him stuffed and displayed on campus, where he remained until 1975, when he was destroyed by a fire. Jumbo remains the mascot, and teams are still called The Jumbos to this day.

Where did Barnum & Bailey experience a horrific circus tent fire in 1944?

The Hartford fire of 1944 was one of the biggest tragedies in circus history. When a circus tent burst into flames with 7,000 people inside, people rushed for the exits, leaving 167 dead due to fire, smoke or trampling. Some of the victims of the fire remain unidentified, even in the 21st century.

True or false: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spent ten years' worth of profits to settled claims related to the 1944 fire.

Insurance claims amounted to more than $4 million dollars for the 168 dead and 487 injured in the fire. The company reserved ten years worth of profits to cover these claims, but never really returned to their pre-fire position.

What caused the fire to spread so quickly?

Hoping to keep patrons dry if it rained, the circus used a mix of paraffin and gasoline to waterproof the tent. When a spark ignited -- and no one is sure to this day where that spark came from -- the highly-flammable waterproofing mixture helped to rapidly spread the flames.

What year did the circus finally ditch the big top tent?

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey held their last show under the big top tent on July 16, 1956, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From there, they moved to permanent venues like arenas and stadiums.

How much did Ringling Bros. spend to purchase Barnum & Bailey, back in 1907?

Ringling Bros. spent over $400,000 to purchase the Barnum & Bailey enterprise in 1907, but kept the two shows separate until wartime shortages forced them to combine the two shows into a single entity in 1919.

True or false: Moving the show out of tents and into arenas allowed the circus to increase the number of annual shows.

Fans of the big top may have been sad to see the tents go, but the move to indoor permanent venues meant increased revenue for the circus. Instead of limiting shows to warmer months, they were able to hold shows for 46 weeks a year, taking a break only during the very coldest period, over the winter holidays.

How much did businessman Irvin Feld spend to buy the circus in 1967?

At a deal signed at Rome's Coliseum on November 11, 1967, businessman Irvin Feld went from manager to owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Feld had managed the promotion and booking for the circus since 1967, and spent $8 million to become its new owner.

Which of these did Feld NOT do to revive the circus after he bought it in 1967?

Feld made big changes to the circus after he purchased Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1967. The next year, he launched national ad campaigns and TV specials while also starting a company clown college to train the next generation of entertainers. Many of the circus acts, including elephants and other animals, remained largely the same under Feld.

How many clowns did the circus have left when the clown college was launched in 1968?

Barnum & Bailey were down to their last dozen clowns by 1968, and many of these entertainers were getting up there in age. Feld launched the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1968, limiting new enrollments to just 30 per class. By the '90s, the college had trained over 1,000 clowns.

What toy company bought the circus in 1971?

Mattel spend a whopping $50 million to take ownership of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1971 from Feld. The company sold the circus back to Feld in 1982 for just $22.8 million.

What actor starred as the circus manager in the 1952 film, "The Greatest Show on Earth"?

The 1952 film, starring Charlton Heston as a circus manager, was set at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jimmy Stewart co-starred as a strange clown who refused to remove his makeup during his time off.

What was the main attraction when the first circus took place in America in 1793?

John Ricketts offered mainly equestrian acts when he premiered his first circus, way back in 1793. Over time, he added many of the features found in the modern circus, including acrobats, clowns and animals.

What did Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey eliminate from their shows, starting in 2016?

After years of pressure from animal rights groups, the circus eliminated all elephant acts in May 2016. The show's 11 performing elephants were sent to the company's Florida elephant conservatory, where they joined 29 other retired elephants.

True or false: Tickets sales dropped after the elephants were taken out of the show.

Clearly, elephants can draw a crowd. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus reported a significant drop in ticket sales after the creatures were retired from the show in 2016.

When did Ringling Bros. hire their first African-American ringmaster?

The company made history in 1999, when they hired 22-year old Johnathan Lee Iverson as their first African-American ringmaster. Iverson spent years with the company, and his wife and son even became part of the act over time.

True or false: The company has never had a female ringmaster.

On January 12, 2017, Kristen Wilson became the first female ringmaster at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She is the 39th ringmaster in the history of the show.

What did the company announce in January 2017?

After 146 years of operation, the company made a January 2017 announcement that they would be closing down. Citing rising ticket costs and reduced attendance, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey announced that their last shows would take place in the spring of 2017.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes