Clifford F. Thies
Clifford F. Thies is the Eldon R. Lindsay Professor of Economics and Finance at Shenandoah University. This article was a presentation to the Clarke County Rotary Club.
P. T. Barnum (1810 -1891) is most famous for something he did not say, "There's a sucker born every minute." He was, by far, the greatest showman of his day and the greatest huckster. He turned the exhibition of curiosities into an art form that he described as "The Greatest Show on Earth." And, more than anyone else, he turned entertainment into a business.
Among the more famous freaks he introduced to the American public were Tom Thumb and the original Siamese Twins (Chang and Eng Bunker). His shows were laced with humor, as well as oddity, such as his exhibit of "A Man Eating Chicken," which consisted of a man eating chicken.
During the 1850s, Barnum brought the beautiful young singer Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to America. To bring her to America, Barnum had to advance her $200,000, or in today's money, $5 million, and by the time she was finished with her tour, she had earned $3 million, or in today's money, $80 million. Barnum made perhaps five times this amount, not only from the concerts, but from franchising the Jenny Lind name. It appeared on products from music and pianos to furniture and clothing. Her name even appeared on candy wrappers.
Jenny Lind sang a range of songs, from opera to folk songs, in several languages, and was accompanied by a full orchestra and other singers. Some of her songs showcased her talents, as ''The Echo Song," in which she seemed to sing in two voices simultaneously. When she sang "I Know my Redeemer Liveth" from "The Messiah," it was a conversion experience. And, when she closed her performance, with a beautifully sung simple song such as "Home Sweet Home," a cappella, she left the audience stupefied.
Barnum also built the forerunner of Madison Square Garden. It featured everything from religious revivals to "boxing exhibitions" (boxing having been illegal in New York at the time).
As for the statement attributed to him, it arose from a libel suit against him by another exhibitionist. The other exhibitionist was charging people $1 to look at what he claimed was a fossilized giant man of prehistoric times. Barnum attempted to buy the supposed fossil, but his offer was turned down. Barnum then had his own fake made and put it on display. He placed stories in various newspapers that the other exhibitionist was displaying a fake. Hence, the libel suit against Barnum.
When the trial got underway, the other exhibitionist -- who claimed that Barnum's business was based on the theory that "There's a sucker born every minute" -- admitted that Barnum was actually correct in saying that he was displaying was a fake. The judge then dismissed the libel suit.
Eventually, Barnum and a rival, James Bailey, formed the traveling circus still in business as The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. It featured exotic animals, clowns and other circus performances and, of course, side shows.
Barnum shamelessly promoted himself through a series of autobiographies. Indeed, his autobiography was the second most widely sold book of the 19th century, following only The Bible.
Whatever the merits of his ventures, Barnum was a highly successful businessman. The following are the rules he once listed as his rules for success in business.
1) Select the kind of business that suits your natural inclinations Blockquote: and temperament.
2) Let your pledged word ever be sacred.
3) Whatever you do, do with all your might.
4) Use no description of intoxicating drinks.
5) Let hope predominate, but be not too visionary.
6) Do not scatter your powers.
7) Engage proper employees.
8) Advertise your business.
9) Avoid all extravagance and always live considerably within your income.
10) Do not depend on others. Your success must depend upon your own exertions. *
"All that the law can do is to shape things so that no injustice shall be done by one to the other, and that each man shall be given the first chance to show the stuff that is in him." --Theodore Roosevelt