Charles Ringling Biography

Business Leader(1863–1926)
Charles Ringling co-founded the Ringling Bros., and later co-owned the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Synopsis

Charles Ringling was born on December 3, 1863 in McGregor, Iowa. He and four of his brothers started the Ringling Bros. Circus and then bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus, effectively operating the largest circus in the United States. Ringling used his wealth to invest in and develop Sarasota County, Florida.

Early Life

Charles Edward Ringling was the fifth son born to German immigrant August Frederick Ringling and Marie Salomê Juliar on December 2, 1863 in McGregor, Iowa. He died one day after his 63rd birthday on December 3, 1926 in Sarasota, Florida. Along with his six brothers—four older and two younger—and younger sister, Ringling was raised in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

In his late teens, Ringling took an interest in performing skits and juggling routines in town halls throughout his home state. By 1882, he and four of his brothers started their own backyard circus in which two brothers danced, two played instruments and the last sang, according to the Wisconsin History Society. They earned some money, purchased suits and top hats, and embarked on a journey to build their first official circus; the Ringling Bros. Circus was born in 1884.

Commercial Success

In order to make their circus a success, each of the five brothers fulfilled a particular task: Ringling was the advance man in charge of production. By 1895, the Ringling Bros. Circus had traveled across the country, and earned a reputation as a major competitor for the powerful Barnum & Bailey Circus. By 1907, however, the Ringlings had grown enough to purchase the Barnum & Bailey Circus from co-owners James Bailey and P.T. Barnum. They ran the circuses as separate entities until 1919, when their company was renamed to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In the midst of the Ringling brothers' success, Ringling had relocated to Sarasota. What began as a simple visit to his younger brother John in 1912, ended in legend. Upon his relocation, Ringling purchased a significant amount of land in and donated some of it to the newly created county. Ringling owned 52 commercial lots and a 33,000-acre ranch. He developed a 10-story hotel and 150 Spanish-style homes, founded the Ringling Bank and Trust Company, and was president of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. He also built himself, his wife, Edith, and their daughter, Hester, a pink marble mansion on a 40-acre property. In the 1960s, the New College of Florida purchased the estate for development as part of its campus.

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