Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up for Who HQ's entertaining biography of P. T. Barnum: politician, businessman, and The Greatest Showman on Earth!
After moving from Connecticut to New York City in 1834, twenty-four-year-old Phineas Taylor Barnum launched his now-legendary career as a showman. Even though spectators debated whether his exhibitions were authentic wonders, hoaxes, or a little bit of both, they were always astounded by what they saw. And readers are sure to be amazed by the story of how Barnum went from owning a museum filled with rare and unusual items to transforming the American circus into a popular and thrilling phenomenon.
About the Author
Kirsten Anderson is a writer and actress who lives in New York City with her charming Pomeranian, Sunflower. She has written several biographies for children, including Who Was Andy Warhol? and Who Was Robert Ripley?
Read an Excerpt
Who Was P. T. Barnum?
At last, the big day was here. Phineas Taylor Barnum was about to see the property that made him the wealthiest boy in Bethel, Connecticut.
His grandfather Phineas Taylor often reminded him how lucky he was to be named after him. After all, that was why he had been given Ivy Island, one of the best pieces of land in the state. When Taylor, as everyone called him, was old enough, he would be able to turn it into rich farmland or sell it at a fantastic price. Taylor nodded. He certainly understood how lucky he was.
Everyone knew about Taylor’s island. His mother told him to be grateful for it. His father hoped Taylor would help support the family when the island was finally his. He promised he would. Neighbors hoped Taylor would not forget them when he became rich and powerful. He promised he would not.
Taylor dreamed about Ivy Island and the wonders it would bring him, but he had never actually seen it. Then, in 1822, when he was twelve years old, he asked his father for permission to visit Ivy Island. His father agreed that it was time.
Taylor was so excited, he could barely sleep. On the morning of the visit, his mother told him to try to stay calm when he got there and to not make himself sick with excitement. She hoped that when he came back, he would not feel too important to speak to his brother and sisters. Taylor said he would try to be kind to them.
It was difficult to get to Ivy Island. Taylor’s father had one of his farmworkers show Taylor the way. The path was swampy. Taylor had to leap over deep puddles and bogs. He trudged through water and mud. He was attacked by hornets.
Finally they made their way across a stream. The worker who had guided Taylor pointed and said, “There’s your Ivy Island!”
Taylor stared. It was a patch of bare land. It had only a few trees and thin plants. It was not a wonderful piece of land that would make him rich. It was probably worth nothing.
Then Taylor realized the truth. He had been the victim of one of his fun-loving grandfather’s jokes. And it wasn’t just him—Taylor’s parents, neighbors, and the whole town had been in on it! When he got home, they all laughed at him.
Taylor eventually was able to laugh about it, too. And he learned a lesson that stayed with him for the rest of his life: The more effort you put into a practical joke, the funnier it could be. And the Ivy Island story had entertained a lot of people for a very long time.
Phineas Taylor Barnum grew up to become a great showman who entertained people around the world. He learned at a young age how the best, most convincing stories could hold people’s interest. In time, he became the owner of “the Greatest Show on Earth.”
Chapter 1: Connecticut
Phineas Taylor Barnum was born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut. Everyone called him Taylor. His parents were Philo Barnum and Irena Taylor Barnum. Philo was a tailor. He also owned a tavern, part of a general store, and a farm.
Irena’s father, Phineas Taylor, was one of the most important people in town. He owned a great deal of land and was a judge. Taylor adored his cheerful grandfather, whom everyone called “Uncle Phin.” Taylor said that his grandfather would “go farther, wait longer, work harder . . . to carry out a practical joke, than for anything else under heaven.” Uncle Phin wasn’t the only one who loved a joke. Taylor later talked about how the whole town loved playing pranks and tricks and telling tall tales. He said that growing up around these people helped him develop his own sense of fun and humor.
Taylor started school at age six. He was excellent at math and enjoyed writing essays and funny bits of poetry. He hated working on his father’s farm. He preferred dreaming up ways to make money. He sold candy, cookies, and drinks in town. By the time he was twelve, he had made enough money to buy his own calf and sheep.
Taylor’s father noticed how good Taylor was at earning money and announced that from then on, he could pay for his own clothes. He also let Taylor work in the general store when he wasn’t in school, instead of on the farm. And Taylor loved working in the store. He listened to the customers’ stories and laughed at their jokes. He watched as they bargained over prices and tried to get the best of each other when making trades.
Philo Barnum died in 1826, leaving sixteen-year-old Taylor alone with his mother, younger brother, and three sisters. They had to sell almost everything they owned to pay off their debts.
Taylor took a job in a store in Grassy Plain, a town a mile away from Bethel. One Saturday a pretty young dressmaker named Charity Hallett came from Bethel to buy a hat. A bad storm struck and Taylor offered to help her get home. By the time they got to Bethel, he was in love with Charity.
In 1827, Taylor was offered a job in Brooklyn, New York. There he learned all about how to manage a store. Taylor enjoyed New York. He went to plays and shows as often as he could.
But Uncle Phin missed Taylor. He offered to give him part of a building in Bethel to start his own store. Taylor was anxious to get back to Charity, so he returned to Bethel.
Taylor opened a store. He also ran lotteries, selling tickets and giving away prizes. He put a lot of effort into advertising his lotteries and made a great deal of money from them.
Taylor wanted to marry Charity, but his mother disapproved. She thought he could do better than a simple dressmaker from Bethel. But Taylor loved Charity.
In October 1829, Charity went to New York to visit relatives. A month later, Taylor went to New York for business. He met up with Charity, and they were married at her uncle’s house.
Taylor’s mother was very unhappy and at first refused to acknowledge his marriage and new wife. Finally, after about a month, she gave in and accepted Charity. Taylor and Charity were very happy together.
Table of Contents
Who Was P. T. Barnum? 1
The 161-Year-Old Woman 13
The American Museum 19
See the Mermaid! 32
Meet General Tom Thumb 39
Introducing Jenny Lind 53
The Art of Losing Money 62
Joining the Circus 68
The End of the Show 95