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After 146 years in business, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will officially take down its giant tent this spring.
In its announcement, the circus’s parent company Feld Entertainment explained that, “The decision to end the circus tours was made as a result of high costs coupled with a decline in ticket sales, making the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”
The release also cited the removal of the elephants from the circus as part of the drop in ticket sales. What was left unsaid was the fact that the circus has been the subject of protests — about the treatment of those elephants and other performing creatures — from animal rights activists and nonprofits such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for decades.
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Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the circus’s legacy isn’t the show at all, but that third name in its title, Barnum. P.T. Barnum was a 19th century entrepreneur who is remembered as the “Great American Showman.” He is also falsely attributed with coining the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
He held a variety of jobs over the course of his life. He came from a family of farmers, and early on was the publisher of a newspaper and the producer of a traveling variety act.
He opened Barnum’s American Museum in New York City in 1842. While Barnum was known for peddling hoaxes, and the museum’s top attractions remain as controversial as ever, he was instrumental in shifting societal mores about the value of pop culture and public entertainment in America.
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It was after the museum burned down in the 1860s that he became a politician. The Connecticut native served in the state’s legislature for four terms and ran on an anti-slavery, pro-temperance (meaning he was a fan of Prohibition) platform. He was also the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn.
When he was 61, he joined forces with James Bailey to create what he called “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Read on for 10 quotes from Barnum about the art of business.
“Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.”
“The plan of 'counting the chickens before they are hatched' is an error of ancient date, but it does not seem to improve by age.”
“Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business.”
“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”
“Let your motto then always be 'Excelsior,' for by living up to it there is no such word as fail.”
“The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum fortune; it is also the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick.”
“Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.”
“The great ambition should be to excel all others engaged in the same occupation.”
“My inexperienced friend, take it for granted that they all tell the truth — about each other! — and then transact your business to the best of your ability on your own judgment.”
“Fortune always favors the brave, and never helps a man who does not help himself.”