Poster: "Fifteen Trained Elephants in Towering Pedestal Pyramid"
Color poster featuring a pyramid of trained elephants and a generator for producing electric light. The poster is a promotion for The Great London Circus and Sanger's Royal British Menagerie, united with Cooper, Bailey & Co. Great International 10 Allied Shows. These combined circus shows represent P. T. Barnum's business endeavors, with several partners, in the early to mid-1880s, prior to...
Show moreColor poster featuring a pyramid of trained elephants and a generator for producing electric light. The poster is a promotion for The Great London Circus and Sanger's Royal British Menagerie, united with Cooper, Bailey & Co. Great International 10 Allied Shows. These combined circus shows represent P. T. Barnum's business endeavors, with several partners, in the early to mid-1880s, prior to the formation of the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.
During this time period, color lithograph posters reached a zenith, with stunning graphic designs and brilliant color combinations. Barnum's posters typically include lengthy descriptions of the wonders people will see, and boastful statements noting the great expense involved in his shows. At the top of the poster is an illustration of the Brush Dynamo Electric Light generator, stated to produce pure white light with no danger of explosion, and costing $15,000.
The heading claims this as the "Only Show in the World Lighted Throughout with Electricity." In the center of the poster are seven elephants standing on scarlet pedestals of different heights to form a pyramid. Beneath them, three young elephants balance on a see-saw, and in the foreground, five young elephants perform various tricks. The text on the righthand side of the poster describes a variety of elephant feats, including being drilled in military maneuvers, walking tight ropes, and being harnessed to golden chariots.
P. T. Barnum is best known today for the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, but his circus ventures did not come about until he was in his early 60s. His first circus, in the early 1870s, was called P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Circus. Barnum subsequently opened the New York Hippodrome with similar acts. In the 1880s, competition from other circuses increased. A merger between Barnum’s show and the Great London Show of Cooper, Bailey, and Hutchinson formed the circus called Barnum & London. America's new and ever-growing railroad system propelled the circus to success, making it possible to add destinations and reach distant locations, as well as transport many more circus wagons, animals, equipment, tent canvas, performers and support staff. Barnum's partnership with James A. Bailey in 1887 formed Barnum & Bailey, which continued to be managed by Bailey after Barnum's death in 1891. After Bailey's death in 1906, the Ringling Brothers bought Barnum & Bailey and operated it separately from their own circus. In 1919 the two were combined to form Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth. That circus gave its final performance on May 21, 2017.