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10 Weird Facts About the Circus


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Circuses Were Publicity Machines
Circuses spent a ton of money on posters in the early 20th century.  Transcendental Graphics/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Circuses spent a ton of money on posters in the early 20th century. Transcendental Graphics/Archive Photos/Getty Images

You'd think that the circus sells itself, with its death-defying acts and feats of amazing ability. But the circus was actually a well-oiled machine of public relations and became more heavily promoted than pretty much any form of entertainment on American soil before it. How did they do it? Paper. So much paper. Posters became a booming circus business spearheaded mostly by Strobridge Lithographing, a printing company in Cincinnati that met the high demand [source: Duke University Libraries]. And boy, was the demand high.

The Forepaugh Circus alone had over a hundred different posters for promotion, and it's estimated that by 1915 Ringling Bros. was posting 10,000 posters a day by employing 70 people in advance cities [source: Speaight]. And kind of hilariously, there were serious turf wars over poster space. Circuses would spend loads of money printing up a jillion posters, and rival circuses would come and post right over them. There was so much strain that the Showman's Association even tried to address it in a 1911 Code of Ethics, a code that was pretty much ignored, which might tell you something about the ethics of the circus [source: Speaight].