I chose to talk about P.T. Barnum because he was made famous by someone who was a dwarf, like me and because people wonder whether his success in his life was because he could con people into paying for whatever he wanted them to. He was also considered to be one of the pioneers of Public relations. Here he is, Phineas Taylor Barnum born in 1810 in Bethel, Connecticut. He was an author, businessman, philanthropist, and for a little while, a politician. According to wikipedia he said of himself, “I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me”. Even though he had many other professions (as many of us usually do) he loved being a showman of all.
The start of his entertainment career was when he became a business owner in his twenties. He began a newspaper. He then moved to New York City in 1834. He started a variety troupe called “Barnum’s Grand Scientific and Musical Theater”. Barnum was a very interesting person, there are even many odd stories told about him. He bought a musuem and named it after himself then used it to promote hoaxes and human curiosities such as Feejee mermaid and General Tom Thumb.
General Tom Thumb was a stage name for Charles Sherwood Stratton. He was actually a distant relative of Barnum’s. He was born a normal sized baby, reached 15 pounds and 24 inches and stopped growing and was diagnosed with what is now, dwarfism. Like me, he had many sibling who were average sized but he just never grew. When Barnum found out that Charles was only 24 inches tall, he taught him to sing, dance, mime and impersonate famous people. This became a huge hit with people. Charles had his first tour across America when he was 5 years old playing characters like Cupid and other comic roles. The first tour with Barnum was a huge success. Charles even performed in front of Queen Victoria twice and met Prince of Wales who then later became King Edward VII. On Charles 18th birthday, he was measured at 2 ft 8.5 inches, according to wikipedia. PT Barnum really had a talent for creating people or acts that would get paying customers to watch.
Barnum really seemed to get people to be interested in whatever service, performance, or opinion he provided. When I read through “10 Strange Stories from the Life of P.T. Barnum” I learned a lot of interesting things that I wouldn’t have known before. Like how many people thought he was a Con-Man just getting his hands on anything that would make people pay to see. In 1865, slavery was still a huge issue and Americans were deciding on who had the right to vote. Barnum thought he would use his showmanship and campaign for the slaves who were literate to have a chance to vote.
Basically Barnum knew exactly what he was doing when he involved himself in the things that he did. He knew that campaigning for civil rights and the slaves would help him profit from his museums that featured the civil war memorabilia. He knew that finding rare humans like Charles Stratton and the FeeJee mermaid would bring people in to see something so extraordinary. He also knew that teaching them to sing and dance and do different comical acts would bring in more people and more money. He was very innovative for his time but people do start to wonder whether everything he did was just a con to get money. Not many people go through as many businesses and careers as Barnum did and everything he was involved him seemed to benefit him also but how could we ever really know? It was 200 years ago. Barnum was considered a philanthropist and I believe that is the right way to remember him, he tried to pave the way into lots of different eras and he succeeded. If you disagree with all the different things he was involved in, I think we can all agree that he was a very interesting person.