While we think of elephants as circus stalwarts, they actually became popular in an arena a little more sophisticated than the Big Top. Although elephants had performed in various menageries and tours for a while, they became a big hit in the august theatre.
In 1829, a play called "The Elephant of Siam" was performed at the Adelphi in London and later toured the country. It featured a trained elephant that went by the rather hoity-toity name of Mademoiselle D'Jeck. Mlle D'Jeck was trained to complete a number of actions — ring a bell and steal a crown with her trunk, then place it on someone's head, for instance [source: Speaight]. This bit of theatre was quite popular, and soon other circus promoters began advertising elephants that performed tricks in the ring, as well.
But it wasn't just elephants: Trained lions were first used on the stage in breathtaking productions. Queen Victoria was in the audience for some of them, which ignited the public's appetite for performing cats [source: Speaight].