Poster depicting the Ringling brothers, founders of the circus, c. 1899. The Ringling brothers are depicted in the upper left corner. (from Wikipedia)
In 1884, five of the seven Ringling brothers started a small circus this date in Baraboo, Wisconsin.This was about the same time that Barnum & Bailey were at the peak of their popularity. Similar to dozens of small circuses that toured the Midwest and the Northeast at the time, the brothers moved their circus from town to town in small animal-drawn caravans. Their circus rapidly grew and they were soon able to move their circus by train, which allowed them to have the largest traveling amusement enterprise of that time. Bailey’s European tour gave the Ringling brothers an opportunity to move their show from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. Faced with the new competition, Bailey took his show west of the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 1905. He died the next year, and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers.
The Ringlings purchased the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth in 1907 and ran the circuses separately until 1919. By that time, Charles Edward Ringling and John Nicholas Ringling were the only remaining brothers of the five who founded the circus. They decided that it was too difficult to run the two circuses independently, and on March 29, 1919, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows” debuted in New York City. The posters declared, “The Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions.”
On July 16, 1956, at the Heidelberg Race Track in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the circus ended its season early, with President John Ringling North announcing that it would no longer exhibit under their own portable “big top” tents and, starting in 1957, would exhibit in permanent venues, such as sports stadiums and arenas that had the seating already in place. In 1967, the Feld brothers and a Houston Judge Hofheinz bought the circus from the Ringling family. In 1971, the Felds and Hofheinz sold the circus to Mattel, buying it back from the toy company in 1982. Since the death of Irvin Feld in 1984, the circus has been a part of Feld Entertainment, an international entertainment firm.
With weakening attendance and high operating costs, Feld Entertainment announced that the circus would close this month after 146 years. (from Wikipedia)