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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Phineas Taylor Barnum

BARNUM, Phineas Taylor, exhibitor, born in Bethel, Connecticut, 5 July 1810. His father was an innkeeper and country merchant, who died in 1825, leaving no property, and from the age of thirteen to eighteen the son was in business in various places, part of the time in Brooklyn and New York city. Having accumulated a little money, he returned to Bethel and opened a small store. Here he was very successful, especially after taking the agency for a year of a lottery chartered by the state for building the Groton Monument, opposite New London. When the lottery charter expired, he built a larger store in Bethel, but through bad debts the enterprise proved a failure. After his marriage in 1829 he established and edited a weekly newspaper entitled "The Herald of Freedora," and for the free expression of his opinions he was imprisoned sixty days for libel. In 1834 he removed to New York, his property having become much reduced. He soon afterward visited Philadelphia, and saw there oil exhibition a colored slave woman named Joyce Heth, advertised as the nurse of George Washington, one hundred and sixty-one years old. Her owner exhibited an ancient-looking, time-colored bill of sale, dated 1727. Mr. Barnum bought her for $1,000, advertised her extensively, and his receipts soon reached $1,500 a week. Within a year Joyce Heth died, and a post-mortem examination proved that the Virginia planter had added about eighty years to her age. Having thus acquired a taste for the show business, Mr. Barnum traveled through the south with small shows, which were generally unsuccessful. In 1841, although without a dollar of his own, he purchased Scudder's American Museum, named it Barnum's Museum, and, by adding novel curiosities and advertising freely, he was able to pay for it the first year, and in 1848 he had added to it two other extensive collections, besides several minor ones. In 1842 he first heard of Charles S. Stratton, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, then less than two feet high and weighing only sixteen pounds, who soon became known to the world, under Mr. Barnum's direction, as General Tom Thumb, and was exhibited in the United States and Europe with great success. In 1849 Mr. Barnum, after long negotiations, engaged Jenny Lind to sing in America for 150 nights at $1,000 a night, and a concert company was formed to support her. Only ninety-five concerts were given ; but the gross receipts of the tour in nine months of 1850 and 1851 were $712,161, upon which Mr. Barnum made a large profit. In 1855, after being connected with many enterprises besides those named, he retired to an oriental villa in Bridgeport, which he had built in 1846o He expended large sums in improving that City, built up the city of East Bridgeport, made miles of streets, and therein planted thousands of trees. He encouraged manufacturers to remove to his new City, which has since been united with Bridgeport. But in 1856-'7, to encourage a large manufacturing company to remove there, he became so impressed with confidence in their wealth and certain success that he endorsed their notes for nearly $1,000,000. The company went into bankruptcy, wiping out Mr. Barnum's property; but he had settled a fortune upon his wife. He went to England again with Tom Thumb, and lectured with success in London and other English cities, returning in 1857. His earnings and his wife's assistance enabled him to emerge from his financial misfortunes, and he once more took charge of the old museum on the corner of Broadway and Ann street, and conducted it with success till it was burned on 13 July 1865. Another museum which he opened was also burned. He then, in the spring of 1871, established a great traveling museum and menagerie, introducing rare equestrian and athletic performances, which, after the addition of a representation of the ancient Roman hippodrome races, the great elephant Jumbo, and other novelties, he called "P. T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth." Mr. Barnum has been four times a member of the Connecticut legislature, and mayor of Bridgeport, to which city he presented a public park. His other benefactions have been large and numerous, among them a stone museum building presented to Tufts College near Boston, Massachusetts, filled with specimens of natural history. He has delivered hundreds of lectures on temperance and the practical affairs of life. He has published his autobiography (New York, 1855; enlarged ed., Hartford, 1869, with yearly appendices), "Humbugs of the World" (New York, 1865); and "Lion Jack," a story (1876).

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