10 Circus Acts That Have Withstood the Test of Time

Elephants acts have been a part of the circus for years, but rising concern for the animals’ safety has forced Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey to retire the act within a few years. David A. Walega/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Elephants have long been displayed in Western cultures as exotic creatures for locals to gawk at. Sure, they didn't always do fancy tricks or act as a performing pad for acrobats, but even in 1623 there were reports of elephants traveling England in menagerie tours [source: Speaight].

It wasn't until 1820 that performing elephants began to take over the circus scene, where a pachyderm would pick up coins from the floor or doff its keeper's hat [source: Speaight]. In the 1870s elephants began performing in choreographed groups and became a hit [source: Victoria and Albert Museum]. While there's concern about the living and working conditions of elephants in the circus, the trainers also led a risky life back in the day. One famous trainer was killed trying to get one of his charges into a train [source: Speaight]. Because of the controversy surrounding the treatment of circus elephants, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey announced it will retire the act by 2018 [source: Wallace].

We'll come back to more circus-staple animals, but first let's venture to an even more precarious event.