10 Weird Facts About the Circus

A Tragedy Bred Safety Measures
The 1944 circus tent fire proved fatal for many spectators and circus animals. Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images

In July 1944, one of the most horrific accidents in American entertainment occurred. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus was in Hartford, Connecticut for an early afternoon show when a fire ripped through the paraffin-covered tent. It caused a stampede, which resulted in 168 deaths, including that of at least 67 children [source: Daily Kos]. It was a horrific tragedy in circus history, but it put a spotlight on some much-needed safety regulations.

After the fire, Hartford — and Connecticut in general — took a look at the laws in place regulating things like fire exits. Temporary structures like the Hartford circus tent were not stringently regulated or enforced. In response, the city and state adopted some extremely strict safety regulations, among the toughest yet in the nation, to prevent another disaster. The American Standards Association adopted new regulations for temporary structures to create a national code, and in the 70 years since the Hartford fire, nobody has died in a commercial tent fire [source: The Hartford Courant].