The show started when Phineas Taylor "P.T." Barnum purchased the "Scudder's American Museum" The anme was changed to "Barnum's American Museum" The museum would become a huge success with Barnum's showmanship and advertising.
in 1875 the Circus operators of Castello and Coup from Wisconsin wanted to go into partnership with Barnum. The P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome was created.
James Anthony Bailey and James E. Cooper had been operating the "Cooper and Bailey Circus" starting in the 1860s. A baby elephant named "Columbia" was part of the circus and was highly advertised as being the first elephant born in the United States.
Barnum wanted to buy the elephant and made a offer to Bailey and Cooper. Eventually the duo decided to combine circus and named it "Barnum & Bailey Circus" The new group was established in 1881.
Barnum & Bailey Circus has seen their share of heart ache as well. A train wreck in the summer of 1889 which killed 2 animal caretakers and 33 horses, 2 camels, and 1 mule. In 1891 Barnum died and Bailey purchased P.T. Barnums share of the circus from his widow. Bailey would continue to travel and operate the circus til 1897. In 1897 Bailey would take the circus to Europe for a 5 year tour.
The Ringling Brothers from WIsconsin had also started a small circus. The circus traveled by wagons and showed mid western states. When Bailey traveled to Europe the Ringling brothers would try to spread out as well and started moving circus by train.
In 1902 Bailey returned to United States. For the next several years he would travel with his circus on the west coast of the United States. In 1906 James Anthony Bailey died. The Ringling brothers would purchase the circus in 1907. From 1907 to 1919 the Ringling brothers would run the two circus separately. In 1919 the two shows were combined.
By the time Bailey returned from Europe in 1902 the Ringlings were well established on the east coast. Bailey moved his circus to the west where the circus did well, however on April 11, 1906 James Anthony Bailey died. The Ringling brothers purchased the circus the following year, (1907).
The Ringlings operated the two shows separately until 1919, when they combined the two shows into the "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus".