Phineas Taylor Barnum, an American speculator, born at Bethel, Conn., July 5, 1810. His father was an innkeeper and country merchant, and from the age of 13 to 18 the son was in business in various parts of Connecticut, and also in Brooklyn, N. Y. Having accumulated a small sum of money, he returned to Bethel and opened a small store. Here he was very successful, especially after adding several lottery schemes to his other sources of income. After his marriage in 1829 he became editor of the "Herald of Freedom," published in Dan-bury, Conn. In 1834 he removed to New York, his property having become much reduced. Here he tried many ways to obtain a livelihood, but without success till 1835, when, hearing of Joyce Heth, a colored woman then on exhibition in Philadelphia as the reputed nurse of George Washington, he bought her for $1,000, and created some excitement by wide advertising, so that the receipts soon amounted to $1,500 a week. He now collected a small company and travelled through the country, realizing large sums. In 1836 Joyce Heth died, and a post-mortem examination proved her to have been but 75 or 80 years old, instead of 161, which was her reputed age. From 1836 to 1839 Mr. Barnum continued in the show business, but then returned to New York, again reduced to poverty.
In 1841, although without a dollar of his own, he purchased the establishment known as Scudder's American Museum, and in December took possession. At the end of a year he was able to pay for it, and in 1848 he had added to it two other extensive collections besides several minor ones. In 1842 Mr. Barnum first heard of Charles S. Stratton of Bridgeport, then five years old, less than two feet high, and weighing only 16 pounds, who soon became known to the world under Mr. Barnum's direction as Gen. Tom Thumb, and was exhibited in the United States and Europe with great success. In 1849 Mr. Barnum, after much negotiation, engaged Jenny Lind to sing in America for 150 nights, at $1,000 a night. A concert company was formed to accompany her, and the gross receipts of the tour in 1850-'51 were over $700,000, upon which Mr. Barnum made a large profit. In 1855, after having been connected with many enterprises besides those named, he built a villa at Bridgeport, retired from business, and published "The Life of P. T. Barnum, written by Himself." A full autobiography under the title of "Struggles and Triumphs" (8vo, Hartford), appeared in 1869. Unfortunate investments having made him a bankrupt in the latter part of 1857, he once more took charge of his old museum, and conducted it till 1865, when it was burned.
Another which he opened was also burned. Since this event he has been interested in other enterprises in New York and in a travelling exhibition of animals and curiosities, and has retrieved his losses. He was an unsuccessful republican candidate for congress in Connecticut in 1868. Mr. Barnum has frequently appeared as a public lecturer on temperance and on the practical affairs of life, and has published, in addition to the above mentioned works, "The Humbugs of the World" (12mo, New York, 1865).