P.T. Barnum’s 13 Most Famous And Unbelievable Oddities

Published November 8, 2017
Updated October 5, 2021

From elephants to Siamese twins, P.T. Barnum's collection was controversial, ever-changing, and incredibly extensive.

Myrtle Corbin four legged woman
Tattooed Man George Costentenus
P.T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid
Fedor Jeftichew Dog Faced Boy
P.T. Barnum’s 13 Most Famous And Unbelievable Oddities
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Phineas Taylor Barnum was born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut. From an early age, it was clear he was going to be an entrepreneur.

By the age of 12, he had made a business for himself by selling snacks and homemade cherry rum at local town events and was able to purchase his own livestock. By the time he was 21, he had purchased a general store, a small lottery, and his own newspaper.

When he was 25, he entered the world of show business, starting with a small sideshow. Though most people associate him with the famous Barnum and Bailey circus, he had an almost 40-year career in sideshows before entering the big top.

In 1841, years before the "Greatest Show on Earth," Barnum purchased a rundown museum in downtown Manhattan and opened Barnum's American Museum. In the museum, he displayed a variety of "oddities," which included historical artifacts, foreign curiosities, animals, and human beings, totaling 500,000 displays in all. The museum was also home to America's first aquarium and wax figure.

P.T. Barnum

Wikimedia CommonsP.T. Barnum

The museum burned down in 1865, the result of a furnace fire in the basement. No humans were harmed, though almost all of the museums' animals died, and the two beluga whales in the aquarium horrifically boiled alive in their tanks.

Not easily deterred, Barnum rebuilt the museum and promised to fully stock it again. However, before he could, another fire destroyed it again three years later.

At this point, Barnum joined up with James Bailey, and together they formed "Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth." Taking with them the collection of human oddities leftover from the museum, as well as a new trove of animals, Barnum and Bailey traveled the world in the first big top three-ring circus.

Drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands over the years, including notable figures like Queen Victora, the pair gained enormous fame. They also sparked a group of followers who attempted their own traveling menageries, such as the Ringling Brothers.

When P.T. Barnum wasn't touring the country with his band of misfits, he was active in the Connecticut political sphere. He served as the mayor of Bridgeport and had a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly. He was a Republican, and a supporter of slavery and the temperance movement, which let up to prohibition.


Enjoy this article on P.T. Barnum? Check out these other P.T. Barnum facts. Then, check out these photos of the early days of the circus. Finally, see the most astounding Andre the Giant photos ever.

author
Katie Serena
author
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
editor
John Kuroski
editor
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Serena, Katie. "P.T. Barnum’s 13 Most Famous And Unbelievable Oddities." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 8, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/pt-barnum-oddities. Accessed April 20, 2024.