Billy Schultz | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

Billy Schultz

Celebrating Wisconsin Visionaries, Changemakers, and Storytellers

Billy Schultz | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Manitowoc’s Circus School Master

Visionary | Billy Schultz | 1880 - 1958

Billy Schultz wears a black and white suit with no jacket. His hands are on his hips and he squints with a slight grimace at something off camera. He's facing profile and to the right.

After William “Billy” Schultz retired from circus performing in the 1920s, he instructed students on circus skills such as acrobatics, trapeze, and clowning at the Manitowoc Vocational School for the next 30 years. - Courtesy of Circus World Museum

William “Billy” Schultz was a visionary whose love for acrobatics and physical fitness fostered the community in Manitowoc and surrounding areas for decades.

Growing up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Schultz had an early interest in circus and vaudeville troupes. He began his performing career at 18 and worked a variety of acrobatic acts in fairs, circuses, and vaudeville before a back injury put his career on hold in the 1920s.

Schultz returned home to Manitowoc and began teaching circus acrobatic skills to local Boy Scouts. Noticing the positive impacts of these unique lessons, the Manitowoc Vocational School director asked Schultz to develop curriculum for an indoor circus. The program was free and taught a range of skills like setting up trapeze equipment, working with props, applying clown makeup, and performing acrobatic stunts.

The students performed for the public as the Billy Schultz Indoor Circus, giving large performances every other year through the 1930s and 1940s. Schultz’s school was unique and the only known vocational circus school in the country at the time. Numerous alumni went on to become professional circus performers.

While the local Manitowoc community had a lot of pride for Schultz’s school, it also attracted interest on a national scale. Schultz regularly received requests from circuses for performers trained in his program. Media attention came from places like the Saturday Evening Post, NBC, and Paramount Pictures. The school continued to operate until Schultz’s retirement in 1956 at the age of 76.

Schultz’s visionary spirit not only helped him reimagine how physical fitness and physical education is taught to children, but also helped put Wisconsin on the national stage, inspiring decades of circus performers.

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