BARNUM, Phineas T. (1810-1891). Manuscript document signed ("P.T. Barnum"), COUNTERSIGNED BY HIS PARTNERS J. A. Bailey and J. L. Hutchinson 26 August 1880. 7 pp., folio, lined paper, neatly stapled together at top.
BARNUM MEETS "FOEMEN WORTHY OF MY STEEL": THE CONTRACT CREATING THE BARNUM, BAILEY & HUTCHINSON CIRCUS
Near the end of a long, successful, at times notorious career as a showman and entertainer, P.T. Barnum had finally met his equal. Unable to beat them, he joined them, making this contract with Messrs. Bailey and Hutchinson. He tells the story behind the partnership in his autobiography: "My strongest competitors were the so-called 'Great London Circus'...Its managers...Bailey and Hutchinson, had adopted my manner of dealing with the public, and consequently their great show grew in popularity." The Englishmen were then making a sensational splash during an American tour when "Hebe," one of their great elephants, gave birth--the first elephant born in captivity. Barnum promptly offered $100,000 for the newborn and its mother, but the Britons "gleefully rejected my offer, pleasantly told me to look to my laurels, and wisely held on to their treasure. I found that I had at last met foemen 'worthy of my steel,' and...men with a business talent and energy approximating to my own." After forming their combination, rivals predicted a flop, saying "we could never take in enough money to cover our expenses, which would be fully forty-five hundred dollars per day." But Barnum had long ago learned that "the great American public are appreciative and ready to respond in proportion to the sums expended for their gratification and amusement." (Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, p. 779)
Under the terms of the contract, Barnum would put up one-half of the capital for the circus tour, with Bailey and Hutchinson each kicking in one-quarter. Profits were shared in the same proportions. Barnum would "when able, devote his talents, Knowledge and experience to writing for them," and at his discretion "appear before the patrons of the [show] and address them." Beyond that, each partner was obligated only to "manage and conduct said Show or Shows, honorably, successfully, and to the satisfaction of the moral and refined portion of the community."
Combining the administrative complexity of a large corporation with the logistical difficulties of an army, Barnum & Bailey's traveling circus represented a radically new form of commercial entertainment. Its directors proved more than up to the challenge, and with the addition of the Ringling Brothers in 1906, the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus became, and remains, the greatest and most successful circus in show business history.