top of page

Iowa Time Machine: Iowa's Circus Kings - May 31, 1866

Iowa Time Machine ⏰: On May 31, 1866, John Ringling of the world famous Ringling Brothers Circus was born in McGregor. With five of his brothers, John Ringling helped build one of the “World’s Greatest Shows” while becoming the “Circus Kings of the United States.”

The fifth of seven sons born to August Ringling and Marie Salomé Juliar, Ringling often enjoyed playing circus with his brothers as a child. After spending his earliest years along the Mississippi River in McGregor, John moved with his family to Baraboo, Wisconsin. 

The Ringlings started their first show in 1870 as "The Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals" and charged a penny for admission. In 1882, the brothers shortened the name to "The Ringling Bros. Classic and Comic Concert Company.” By 1889, the circus grew large enough to travel on railroad cars, rather than animal-drawn wagons.

In 1907, the brothers bought the Barnum & Bailey circus for $400,000 from the estate of James Anthony Bailey and ran the two circuses as separate entities until the end of the 1918 season. John took the advance position, traveling ahead and booking the appearances while his brother Charles worked as the operating manager.

After purchasing Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth from the estate of James Bailey in 1907, the Ringling brothers gained fame as the "Circus Kings" of the United States. At the peak, the brothers controlled not only their own namesake show, but also the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Adam Forepaugh and Sells Brothers Circus. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar 


bottom of page