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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Ringling [Rungeling], Albert 1852 - 1916


circusman, b. Chicago. He moved to Wisconsin in the early 1870's, settling in Baraboo. Ringling was the eldest of seven brothers, six of whom eventually became identified with the development of the circus in America. On Nov. 27, 1882, Albert Ringling, with four of his brothers, Alf, Otto, Charles, and John, performed before the public in a "Classic and Comic Concert" at Mazomanie, Wis. On May 19, 1884, at Baraboo, in collaboration with veteran showman "Old Yankee [Fayette L.] Robinson," the brothers gave their first circus performance under the title, "Old Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers Great Double Show." From these crude beginnings, the Ringling brothers expanded in 35 years until their circus became the best known in the world. They acquired an elephant in 1888, began to use the railroads for transportation in 1890, and in 1904 acquired a half interest in the Forepaugh-Sells Circus, gaining complete control two years later. Maintaining their business arrangement as a co-partnership, in 1907 the Ringling brothers bought out the Barnum and Bailey Circus and claimed the title of "the Greatest Show on Earth." Albert Ringling, the leader of the "circus brothers" in the early wagon-show days, contributed generously to various civic enterprises in Baraboo and built the theater there that bears his name. He was for many years recognized as one of the foremost citizens of Baraboo, and in 1915 was honored by the Wisconsin legislature. OTTO RINGLING, b. Baraboo, served in the early days of the circus as advance man, ticket taker, and cashier. An excellent businessman and extremely efficient circus manager, Otto was known among circus people as "The King," and was responsible for many of the mergers effected by the brothers in the early 1900's. After Otto's death in 1911, another brother, HENRY RINGLING, b. McGregor, Iowa, purchased his interest and became a partner in the circus enterprise. Of the remaining brothers concerned with the circus undertaking at Baraboo, ALFRED T. RINGLING, b. McGregor, Iowa, handled the circus publicity until his death. CHARLES RINGLING, b. McGregor, styled by many as "the master showman," managed the circus for many years, spending more days in the active management of a large circus than any other showman. He kept the circus clean, and went far toward eliminating graft both from his own and other circuses. JOHN RINGLING, b. McGregor, Iowa, the last survivor of the famous brothers, was the transportation and routing expert. He was known to his performers as "Mr. John," and through his personal investments in railroads, oil fields, real estate, and art, became the wealthiest of the Ringlings. Much of his rich art collection is housed in the famous Ringling Art Museum, Sarasota, Fla. Dict. Amer. Biog.; Life Story of the Ringling Brothers (Chicago, 1900); E. C. May, Circus ... (New York, 1932); H. E. Cole, ed., Standard Hist. of Sauk Co. (2 vols., Chicago, 1918); Baraboo Weekly News, Apr. 6, 1911, Jan. 6, 1916, Dec. 3, 1936; N.Y. Times, Dec. 2, 1936.

View pictures relating to the circus at Wisconsin Historical Images.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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