P. T. Barnum
Phineas Taylor Barnum reinvented the circus. His knowledge of what people want and how to make people think they want what he had was amazing. He constantly fooled people and had a way of making the customers come back. Barnum was ultimate salesman. He single handedly turned the circus into the “Greatest Show On Earth” it is today.
P. T. Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut on July 5th 1810. He later called himself a “Yankee doodle dandy, plus one.” He was the oldest of five, all raised in a typical Connecticut saltbox house, which is an average, large house, is that still stands today. His father, Philo Barnum, dabbled in several trades. His father owned his own dry goods store. Barnum’s mom, Irena Taylor, was a housewife. The family was moderately well off.
Barnum, as a child was influenced by a strict Protestant work ethic. He fallowed a type of Christianity called Congregationalism. Congregationalism was strict about working, learning and keeping yourself busy. Fun was a scarce commodity. About the only fun the church ever had were lotteries, but even those were rare. Also the town liked one-upping each other with outrageous pranks.
Phineas Taylor, who was Barnum’s grandfather, was one of the most notorious jokers in Bethel and also one of the richest men. His longest running joke would be on Barnum. At the boys cresting, he deeded Barnum a piece of land called Ivy Island. For years Barnum herd stories about what a lucky young man he was to be given Ivy Island At the age of ten he set out to see the island himself. Barnum soon found out Ivy Island was named for poisoned ivy. It was an Island in the middle of swamp just east of Bethel. Barnum then learned that he was the unknowing butt of jokes for ten years. Barnum learned from this, although a bit angry, that people loved being humbugged.
He would attend school just long enough to maser basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. At the age of eight Barnum became an apprentice for his father’s dried good store. Although, sadly, in 1826 Barnum’s father died. The fifteen year old was the family’s only means of support. His father’s store changed hands and he went to work for the new owner. Around this time Barnum met Charity Hollet.
Charity and Barnum soon got married in 1829 when Barnum was 19. Charity was a devout Congregationalist. With his new bride beside him Barnum set out to make a name for him in business. Like his father he juggled several jobs. He bought his own store in Bethel, he started a newspaper, and he ran a lottery. Much to Charity’s dismay Barnum adopted a new religion, Universalism, which offered what he called a more “cheerful” Christianity.
Barnum was strongly opposed to the involvement of the Congregationalist church in local politics. In 1831 he used his newspaper to attack a minister in nearby Danbury Connecticut. The response was nor very cheerful nor very Christian. Barnum ended up with 60 days in the Danbury jail. He published his paper through the jail and portrayed himself as a little guy persecuted by a corrupt religious elite. Public support got him out of jail and made him a political force to be reckoned with. It taught him “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”3
Charity grew more conservative as Barnum grew more audacious. She wanted to settle down and have children. For the next few years the couple settled down. In 1833 the first of four daughters were born. But P. T. Barnum’s life took another sudden turn. The next year Connecticut outlawed lotteries. A few weeks later his store went bust. Then the final blow came, the newspaper could not repeat with the well-established Danbury Recorder and folded. Within a few short months he was wiped out. In 1834, with nothing left to lose Barnum moved his family to New York City. Without knowing it he started down the road to the “Greatest Show On Earth.”4
In 1835, against Charity’s wishes, Barnum used every penny they had to buy the contract of an elderly slave named Joice Heth. She was