German -born Heinrich Friedrich August Ringling and Marie Salome Juliar of France tied the knot back in the mid-19th century. Theirs was a rather productive union in the offspring department, bringing the world seven sons and a daughter. Although the brothers could have inspired the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, they didn’t. Five of them did, however, conspire to bring the world of circus to the masses.
The five brothers – August, Otto, Alfred, John, and Charles, who died on December 3, 1926 – were all entertainers of sorts, performing skits and juggling routines in town halls and other local venues around the state of Wisconsin. They called themselves the “Ringling Brothers’ Classic and Comic Concert Company.” In 1884, they teamed up with a well-known showman, Yankee Robinson to create a one-ring circus that toured the Midwest. It was a good season for the Ringling Brothers; not so much for Yankee Robinson who died halfway through it.
The Ringlings did another circus in 1887, bigger and better, if you accepted its name: “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.”
In 1889, they purchased railroad cars and parade equipment, allowing them to move around farther and faster, playing larger towns every day, substantially increasing their profits. On a real roll, they purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus, running both circuses until they merged them into the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus – skipping right over two rings to become a three-ringer, modestly known as the Greatest Show on Earth.