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Venerable Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus folds up its big top

May 21, 2017 - UNITED STATES

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending The Greatest Show on Earth after a 146-year run, and its May performance in Uniondale, New York, is its last. The company lists declining ticket sales, particularly after its circus elephants were retired in 2015, among the reasons for closing.

Charles and John Ringling, along with their brothers Albert and Otto, founded the circus in 1884, in Baraboo, Wisconsin, according to The brothers bought out their biggest competitor, the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the combined show was started in 1919. They were operating as the largest circus in the United States by the 1930s. It is now produced by Feld Entertainment.

Exotic animal acts were always as much a part of the Ringling circus as the dazzling costumes and acrobats, and animal rights groups have shone a harsh light in recent years on the beasts' living and working conditions. Activists have picketed circuses to make their case for decades - and have sued. Elephants have been a particular focus. Many cities and towns responded to the tales of abuse by banning the circus. Lawsuits also undermined the company's profits.

While animal rights groups can take much credit for the decision to close the circus, the proliferation of other avenues for entertainment is also said to have played a role in the declining ticket sales and profits.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus history (

Circus Myths (Humane Society)

Circuses (PETA)

As Ringling Ends Circus, See Where Its Elephants Retired (National Geographic 17 Sep 2015)

Date written/update: 2017-01-17