Adam Forepaugh (February 28, 1831-January 20, 1890) was more a savvy businessman that entertainer. At the young age of nine he became a butcher. He later entered the livestock trade and achieved wealth during the Civil War selling horses to the Union government. He entered the circus business through a debt of $9000 paid to him as a share in the Tom King Excelsior Circus. Forepaugh began to tour with Fraught bearing his own name in 1866. As a businessman he recognized the need for innovation in a competitive industry. He was the first to hold his performances under two separate roundtops, one for the menagerie and one for the circus performance. He was also the first to incorporate the Wild West Show into the circus. In less than twenty years Forepaugh went from dealing livestock to being the fiercest competitor to P.T. Barnum.
While he achieved fame and fortune he was notoriously corrupt and greedy. He was known for grifting and short-changing spectators. He hired pickpockets to work the crowd. He placed his cut from these stolen spoils in his infamous vest pocket, usually full after the show. Forepaugh did much to advance the circus but his irreverence for his customers’ money and belongings lead, in part, to the defaming of circus fold as immoral. Thus, he made a market niche for “Sunday School Shows” like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.
(Act – “Horse walking the tight rope”, performed 1887)