P.T. Barnum, Opera, and Fame

By | September 1, 2020

[September 1, 2020]  Showman, huckster, and circus businessman P.T. Barnum is famous for being part of America’s entertainment industry.  He is a legend now, more than 150 years after his exploits.  Yet, deviating from his traditional methods of entertainment, in 1850, Mr. Barnum brought the greatest opera performer in the world from Europe to the United States.  This netted him great fame and money.

P.T. Barnum is still known today as the most extraordinary circus promoter ever.  He entertained people with great fanfare: elephant and trapeze acts, human oddities, and rigged games of skill.  Most famous among them was ‘Tom Thumb,’ ‘zip the pinhead,’ and the ‘man-monkey.’  He was a businessman at heart and will always be remembered for celebrating hoaxes and founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

It was none other than P.T. Barnum, however, who brought Jenny Lind, a great opera singer on an American tour that set astonishing box-office records.  This tour fanned the flames of a widespread opera craze in the 1850s; a trend that continues into the 21st Century.  The star Jenny Lind – “The Swedish Nightingale” – was a singer of uncommon talent and great renown.  She was greeted in America with a mania not unlike that of another foreign musical invasion more than a century later.

While in England with Tom Thumb, Barnum was told about Lind and proceeded to propose a North American tour to her without ever hearing her sing a note.  Her “once-in-a-lifetime” voice, it seems, was of interest to Barnum only as she had recently drawn sellout crowds during a recent tour of Britain and Ireland.  He proposed a high sum of money for her based solely on her proven box-office pull.

P.T. Barnum used his skills to promote Jenny Lind and helped make her famous.  He used his trademark gifts in the area of promotion, including massive advertising and paid-for reviews in regional newspapers.  From the moment of her arrival in New York, Lind was a sensation.  Barnum had seen to it that this would be the case.

“As a general thing, I have not ‘duped the world’ nor attempted to do so … I have generally given people the worth of their money twice told.’ – P.T. Barnum

Mr. Barnum shows what it takes to have influence.  His aggressiveness, extroverted personality, fearlessness, hard work, and intelligence helped propel him to become the most famous entertainer in America.  It was on this date exactly 150 years ago today, September 1st, 1850, that P.T. Barnum brought Jenny Lind to America.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “P.T. Barnum, Opera, and Fame

    1. Valkerie

      Thanks for the link on PT Barnum. Read it all. Fascinating.

  1. Wilson Cox

    Thanks in part to the enduring success of his circus, Barnum is celebrated as a brilliant promoter and a man who transformed the nature of commercial entertainment in the 19th century.

  2. Willie Shrumburger

    Barnum went on to serve multiple terms in the Connecticut legislature and was elected mayor of Bridgeport in 1875.

  3. Eric Coda

    The Greatest Show on Earth’ Barnum retired from the museum business and teamed up with circus owners Dan Castello and William C. Coup. Together they launched Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome in 1871. Referring to the traveling spectacle as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Barnum took full ownership of the successful venture by 1875.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      I’d forgotten that later in his life that PT Barnum created what was called ‘the greatest show on earth’ and for that time that was, in fact, probably true.

  4. Scotty Bush

    Strange happenings in the PT Barnum circle of entertainment. Entrepeneurs should be studying Mr. Barnum’s style and techniques.

  5. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    PT Barnum purchased the right to display William Henry Johnson from the circus and gave him a new look. A furry suit was made to fit him, and his hair was shaped to a tiny point that further accented his sloping brow. Finally, he was given the name, “Zip the Pinhead”, the “What-Is-It?”

    1. Doug Smith

      It is estimated that during his 67 years in show business, Zip entertained more than one hundred million people

  6. Newtown Manager

    If you give a man a few dollars, he will surly spend it on something that entertains him. My mom told me that. Perhaps it was my dad that inspired her to think such lowly things of men but, hey, there is something to it. Men have a tendency to misspend their money. They earned it, they spend it. Frugal is not necessarily in their vocabulary.

    1. Joe Omerrod

      Ha Ha…. Made me laugh this morning. Good one. I figure your mom was pretty good at sarcasm. ?

  7. Yusaf from Texas

    Barnum was born Phineas Taylor Barnum on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut. A natural salesman, he was peddling snacks and cherry rum to soldiers by age 12.

    1. Harry Donner

      In 1835, Barnum’s knack for promotion surfaced when he paid $1,000 for an elderly slave named Joice Heth. Claiming she was 161 years old and a former nurse for George Washington, Barnum exhibited her throughout the Northeast, raking in an estimated $1,500 per week.

    2. Kenny Foster

      Yes, interesting comment Yusaf and one I don’t completely agree with. Thanks for taking the side of your mom, however.

  8. Randy Goodman

    I remember my grandfather telling about “the greatest show on earth.” Wow, powerful entertainment for the times.

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