P.T. Barnum was actually a museum owner for most of his career; however, his name carries strong associations with the circus. While never owning a circus of his own, Barnum worked with many co-owners to market and produce some of the most popular circuses of the late 19th century. A few of his partners included Seth B. Howes (Barnum Caravan) 1851-1854, Hyatt Frost (Barnum and Van Amburgh) cr. 1865-1867, W.C. Coup and Dan Castello (Barnum) 1871-1875 and John J. Nathans, Lewis June, and George F. Bailey, (Barnum) 1876-1880.
After his museum burnt down in 1868, Barnum retired for several years. In 1871 he reentered the world of entertainment. Along with William Cameron Coup and Dan Costello, Barnum began P.T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie and Circus, a traveling combination of which the “museum” part was an exhibition of animal and human oddities, soon to become an integral part of the American circus known as the Sideshow. In 1872 Barnum and Coup utilized the railroad to transport their show. The circus had become by far the most popular form of entertainment in America, and Barnum and Coup’s enterprise was America’s leading circus.
Eventually, Barnum merged with Bailey’s Great London Show which would eventually merge with Ringling Bros. to form the most enduring circus corporation of the twentieth century: Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. But this last merger came years after Barnum’s death in 1891.