Ringling Brothers

Ringling Brothers, seven brothers, sons of German-born August Rüngeling, who established an American circus empire. Albert C. (1852–1916), Otto (1858–1911), Alfred T. (1861–1919), Charles Edward (1863–1926), and John (1866–1936) founded the circus in Baraboo, Wis., in 1884. Henry (1869–1918) joined the show in 1886, and August G. (1854–1907) followed three years later. The show soon started to tour the Midwest, at first traveling by wagon. In 1889 it began to use the railroad, greatly expanding the scope of its tour. By the turn of the century the Ringling Brothers were a major force in the circus world, and soon acquired a number of smaller circuses. In 1907 they purchased their largest competitor, Barnum & Bailey, and a decade later combined the shows into the nation's largest circus, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, styled the “Greatest Show on Earth.” When Charles, who had long directed the circus, died, John became boss. He bought (1929) the American Circus Corp., and ran the entertainment empire until his death in 1936. John's nephew John Ringling North (1903–85) ran the operation for most of the ensuing years until 1967, when the circus was sold to a business group; the circus continued in operation until 2017.

See A. T. Ringling, Life Story of the Ringling Brothers (1900); C. P. Fox, A Ticket to the Circus: A Pictorial History of the Incredible Ringlings (1959); H. R. North and A. Hatch, The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family (1960); G. Plowden, These Amazing Ringlings and Their Circus (1967); K. Matthews, The Unlikely Legacy (1979); D. Hammarstrom, Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus (1994); J. Apps, Ringlingville USA (2005).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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