The development of the circus
The modern concept of a circus as a circular arena surrounded by tiers of seats, for the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic and other performances seems to have existed since the late 18th century. The popularity of the circus in England may be traced to that held by Philip Astley in London. The first performance of his circus is said to have been held on January 9, 1768. One of Astley's major contributions to the circus was bringing trick horse-riding into a ring, though Astley referred to it as the Circle. Later, to suit equestrian acts moving from one circus to another, the diameter of the circus ring was set at 42 ft (13 m), which is the size of ring needed for horses to circle comfortably at full gallop. When Astley added tumblers, tightrope-walkers, jugglers, performing dogs, and a clown to fill time between his own demonstrations, he created a modern circus. Astley never called his performances a 'circus'; that title was thought up by Charles Dibdin, who in partnership with Astley's rival Charles Hughes, opened the Royal Circus on 4 November 1782, a short distance from Astley's 'Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts' in Lambeth, London. Astley was followed by Andrew Ducrow, whose feats of horsemanship had much to do with establishing the traditions of the circus, which were perpetuated by Henglers and Sangers celebrated shows in a later generation. In England circuses were often held in purpose built buildings in large cities, such as the London Hippodrome, which was built as a combination of the circus, the menagerie and the variety theatre, where wild animals such as lions and elephants from time to time appeared in the ring, and where convulsions of nature such as floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have been produced with an extraordinary wealth of realistic display. In 1782, Astley established the Amphitheatre Anglais in Paris,
he first purpose-built circus in France, followed by 18 other permanent circuses in cities throughout Europe. Astley leased his Parisian circus to the Italian Antonio Franconi in 1793. Trapeze artists, in lithograph by Calvert Litho. Co., 1890 The Englishman John Bill Ricketts brought the first modern circus to the United States. He began his theatrical career with Hughes Royal Circus in London in the 1780s, and came over from England in 1792 to establish his first circus in Philadelphia. The first circus building in the US opened on April 3, 1793 in Philadelphia, where Ricketts gave America's first complete circus performance. George Washington attended a performance there later that season. In the Americas of the first two decades of the 19th century, the Circus of Pepin and Breschard toured from Montreal to Havana, building circus theatres in many of the cities it visited. Victor Pepin, a native New Yorker, was the first American to operate a major circus in the United States. Later the establishments of Purdy, Welch & Co., and of van Amburgh gave a wider popularity to the circus in the United States. In 1825 Joshuah Purdy Brown was the first circus owner to use a large canvas tent for the circus performance. Circus pioneer Dan Rice was probably the most famous circus and clown pre-Civil War, popularizing such expressions as "The One-Horse Show" and "Hey, Rube!". The American circus was revolutionized by P. T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup, who launched P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie & Circus, a travelling combination of animal and human oddities, the exhibition of humans as a freak show or sideshow was thus an American invention. Coup was also the first circus entrepreneur to use circus trains to transport the circus from town to town; a practice that continues today and introduced the first multiple ringed circuses.