Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891), American showman, was born in Bethel, Connecticut, on the 5th of July 1810, his father being an inn- and store-keeper. Barnum first started as a store-keeper, and was also concerned in the lottery mania then prevailing in the United States. After failing in business, he started in 1829 a weekly paper, The Herald of Freedom, in Danbury; after several libel suits and a prosecution which resulted in imprisonment, he moved to New York in 1834, and in 1835 began his career as a showman, with his purchase and exploitation of a coloured woman, Joyce Heth, reputed to have been the nurse of George Washington, and to be over a hundred and sixty years old. With this woman and a small company he made well-advertised and successful tours in America till 1839, though Joyce Heth died in 1836, when her age was proved to be not more than seventy. After a period of failure, he purchased Scudder's American Museum, New York, in 1841; to this he added considerably, and it became one of the most popular shows in the United States. He made a special hit by the exhibition, in 1842, of Charles Stratton, the celebrated "General Tom Thumb" (see Dwarf). In 1844 Barnum toured with the dwarf in England. A remarkable instance of his enterprise was the engagement of Jenny Lind to sing in America at $1000 a night for one hundred and fifty nights, all expenses being paid by the entrepreneur.
The tour began in 1850. Barnum retired from the show business in 1855, but had to settle with his creditors in 1857, and began his old career again as showman and museum proprietor. In 1871 he established the "Greatest Show on Earth," a travelling amalgamation of circus, menagerie and museum of "freaks," etc. This show, incorporated in the name of "Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson," and later as "Barnum & Bailey's" toured all over the world. In 1907 the business was sold to Ringling Brothers. Barnum wrote several books, such as The Humbugs of the World (1865), Struggles and Triumphs (1869), and his Autobiography (1854, and later editions). He died on the 7th of April 1891.