How P.T. Barnum Worked

Lottery Mogul and Local Crusader

In Grassy Plain, while the owners were gone from the store, P.T. traded some unsellable goods for a collection of glass bottles. Using these bottles and other unsellable tinware from the store as prizes, he organized a lottery, turning old, unsellable inventory into cash. He quickly sold 1,000 tickets, promising half would be winners. Major prizes were cash, but minor prizes were bottles and tinware. It was around this time that he was introduced to Charity Hallett, "a fair, rosy-cheeked, buxom girl, with beautiful white teeth" [source: Barnum].

Before he could think about marriage, however, he needed to make something of himself — so he left for the big city. When he was only 16, P.T. moved to Brooklyn to clerk in a grocery store for a salary, but he quickly learned he'd rather have a job with a commission that would let him use his energy to increase his profits. The next year, hit a hurdle: He came down with smallpox and had to return home.

Undaunted by his health problems, in 1828, Barnum opened his own fruit and confectionery shop with help from his grandfather but soon turned his attention back to lotteries. He studied other lotteries and, instead of managing his own, opted to buy tickets from other managers and sell them at 30 percent profit, eventually with agents of his own selling them all over the state.

It wasn't all business, though. The same year he opened the shop, P.T. became reacquainted with Charity. They married and would go on to have four daughters together.

Before the daughters, though, came the newspaper. In 1831, as a young man "in a period of strong political excitement," Barnum frequently wrote letters to the local paper and grew frustrated when they were rejected. He decided to start his own weekly newspaper called "Herald of Freedom" [source: Barnum]. He quickly made enemies with his printed accusations, and a judge finally slapped him with a jail sentence after Barnum lost a libel suit. After his 60-day stint in jail, however, the paper's subscriptions had increased, and Barnum was celebrated as a local hero for his crusade to expose corruption and wrongdoing.

In 1833, around the time the first of Barnum's daughters was born, Connecticut banned lotteries, cutting off a major source of income for him and his family. By 1834, after Barnum left his paper and sold his interest in his store, Bethel had no more hold on him. And so he moved his family to New York City to seek his fortune.