Section One

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P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth
P. T. Barnum, James Bailey, James L. Hutchinson
Strobridge Lithography Company, c. 1881–85

No other industry in America was as dependent on poster advertising as the circus. The thousands of sheets of paper that appeared on every barn and fence in town shortly before the circus arrived were as much a part of the show as the parade and the performance. In bright colors and large sizes, circus posters easily dominated other forms of commercial advertising.

This crowded poster by the Strobridge Lithography Company, renowned for its theater, show, and circus advertising, enticed the reader with multiple offerings. In addition to the delightful center illustration and promises of three circuses in rings, two menageries in tents, and seven monster shows, the poster lured viewers with portraits, printed in contrasting black and white, of the legendary proprietors, Phineas T. Barnum and James Bailey, and their partner at the time, James Hutchinson.