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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®

130 Years of Tradition, Excitement and Wonder

Since its first show in 1871, the spirit of artists performing in what has become known as The Greatest Show On Earth® has fascinated onlookers and established the foundation for success of Feld Entertainment's Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The all-live performances, full of comedy, grace, color, precision, athleticism, suspense, music and the harmonious interaction of humans and animals, bring people back time and time again. Ringling Bros. is part of the American cultural heritage and the only show business phenomenon to run in three consecutive centuries.

Ringling Bros. is a 130-year tradition that combines the classics - extraordinary animal performances, captivating clown escapades and daring high-wire acts - with contemporary surprises and thrills to make the circus-going experience memorably unique. Families can depend upon Ringling Bros. to return the same time every year with a new show, which has made it become a family tradition generation after generation. Ringling Bros. has two independent units - the Red and the Blue - that rotate tours each year to ensure a fresh, new performance for the audience. The combined shows house more than 250 animals, 300 performers and 300 staff and crew members. Ringling Bros. hosts 10 million visitors and travels to 90 cities in North America each year.


Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has a history of launching the careers of circus stars of the past, including Gunther Gebel-Williams, and the present, such as twenty-four-year-old animal trainer Sara Houcke on the Blue Unit. A descendant of seven generations of European circus performers, Sara takes center ring in her shows, amazing audiences with her unconventional and charming approach to working with the animals and connecting with guests.
The Red Unit currently features ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, who is the youngest and first African-American ringmaster at Ringling Bros. and was profiled by Barbara Walters as one of The 10 Most Fascinating People of 1999. Another rising star is the comic daredevil Bello Nock who was named "America's Best Clown" by TIME Magazine in 2001.


Feld Entertainment® has owned the circus since 1967 when Irvin Feld purchased the show from John Ringling North. Conventional wisdom in the performing arts community recognizes Irvin Feld and his son, Kenneth, for raising the production quality of the show and saving the circus, which at the time was suffering from skyrocketing costs and dwindling attendance. Thanks to the efforts of the Felds, Ringling Bros. is unrivaled in size, quality, popularity, attendance and number of cities visited. During the 33 years of Feld family ownership, Ringling Bros. has experienced a number of significant milestones, including the addition of the first living unicorn; the first quadruple somersault in performance; the presentation of acrobats from China; the first female Clown College graduate, Peggy Williams; the exhibition of Asian circus skills from Mongolia; and King Tusk, an elephant that rivals the legendary Jumbo in size.

The Vision of the Felds

Brothers Irvin and Israel Feld were successful pioneers in the rock n' roll concert tour business and familiar with new concert arenas sprouting up across the country. Wanting to preserve the American tradition of Ringling Bros., Irvin suggested that the show become an exclusive indoor presentation, and he assumed responsibility for booking and promoting the show in 1957.
A decade later, the Feld family fulfilled one of Irvin's long-time dreams and purchased The Greatest Show On Earth. Within two years of Feld family ownership, Irvin created a second unit of Ringling Bros., which was equal in size, scope and quality to the first. He also added German animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams to the show, who quickly gained worldwide recognition for his talents in working with animals. In 1968, Irvin created Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College® to preserve the art of clowning. Over the next two years, Irvin worked diligently to promote the circus through national advertising campaigns, television specials and creative public relations.

Irvin's only son, Kenneth, joined Ringling Bros. in 1970 and learned the craft of circus production from his father. Kenneth was made a co-producer in 1973 and assumed control of the entire company upon Irvin's death in 1984.

Multicultural Tradition

Kenneth Feld has put his stamp on Ringling Bros. by modernizing its creative and business practices and by constantly looking at ways to connect with his audiences. Among them was introducing a national Hispanic initiative in 2001. Ringling Bros. unites Hispanic cultures with the ageless circus tradition by creating a special presentation for its Spanish-speaking guests in 12 select markets across the country, including Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Show adaptations include a Hispanic guest ringmaster, Spanish introductions and songs throughout the production and a special marketing campaign to build a multigenerational tradition within the Hispanic community - the fastest growing population in the country.

Commitment to Education

Ringling Bros. has offered special performances to schoolchildren for a number of years. However, in 2000, Ringling Bros. took this a step further by launching an all-new initiative to educate schoolchildren about the phenomenon of the circus. The curriculum-based performance highlights the educational themes of animal care, teamwork and trust, science and physics, and goal setting. The program is bolstered by printed "readiness" materials created by educators and provided free to teachers with the purchase of reduced-price tickets. The materials feature pre- and post-show components developed for kindergarten through 3rd grade and 4th through 8th grades. The readiness materials include a list of activities to prepare children for the performance and a 40-minute pre-show where the four educational themes are brought to life. The post-show segment includes follow-up classroom activities for children.
Other education initiatives include backstage blind touch tours, presented to schools for the visually impaired, and backstage and pre-show sign language tours for hearing impaired school groups. Ringling Bros. has also partnered with Newspapers in Education (NIE) to provide circus-themed curriculum materials and sponsor the distribution of more than 2,000,000 newspapers into classrooms throughout the country during the last decade.

Animal Care & Conservation

Because animals are an integral part of The Greatest Show On Earth, Feld Entertainment is committed to the highest standards in the care of all the animal performers. Many years of successfully working and living with animals have given the company a solid foundation of practical and scientific knowledge about exotic, domestic and endangered species. The animal care staff consists of animal experts who devote their lives to living with, working with and caring for animals 365 days a year. All training and handling of the animals are based on constant contact, daily routines and nurturing, which build a rapport between the animals and the handlers based on trust and affection.

Ringling Bros. has established itself as a recognized leader in elephant conservation efforts by building the Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC), a state-of-the-art facility for the breeding, study and care of Asian elephants. Scientists and animal care experts from around the world visit and participate in the center's programs.

This 200-acre facility in central Florida is home base for the Ringling Bros. elephants, which constitute the largest and most diverse gene pool of Asian elephants outside of Southeast Asia. In 1999, the tenth elephant born under the center's care arrived. Osgood was born "blue," or oxygen-deprived, but thanks to the efforts of the animal care team, "Ozzie" is alive and well today. The ability to educate the public and find ways for elephants and humans to live and work together will help ensure the survival of the species, now numbering fewer than 40,000.

Feld Entertainment also gives substantial annual funding to the Friends of the National Zoo, Smithsonian Institution, World Wildlife Federation and Wildlife Protection Trust International. As part of the International Elephant Foundation, the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation is helping in efforts to provide emergency veterinary care, supplies, equipment, elephant health care and management training to Indonesian mahouts, or elephant trainers, in Sumatra, Indonesia. This is one of the first projects funded through the federal Asian Elephant Conservation Act, which was initiated by a team of wildlife conservation organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, the American Zoological and Aquarium Association, the Smithsonian Institution and Ringling Bros.
With all the circus has to offer, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is truly an annual family tradition.

[ Back to the Circus Train Webpage by Carl Morrison ]