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Iconic Ringling Brothers Circus is set to relaunch its 'Greatest Show on Earth' in 2023

The 'Greatest Show on Earth' will again dazzle children of all ages as The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus plans to relaunch in 2023 - four years after the company shut down over fights with animal rights activists. 

However, the iconic circus that barnstormed the country after setting up its first big tent in 1871, said its famed three rings will not feature any animal acts.

Feld Entertainment, which bought the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1967, announced recently at a panel that the show is expected to return in 2023 and an official announcement is expected next year. 

'In 2023, we will be relaunching Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus,' a choked-up Grossman, Fled's chief operating officer and prior performer, said at a Venues Now conference last week. 

'You can see it's emotional and exciting for us as a family. We really feel that Ringling Bros. has incredible relevance to today's audience.'

The circus shut down in 2017 following decades of protests by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), claiming the company was exploiting animals in their show. 

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is scheduled to relaunch in 2023 with an official announcement set for 2022 

The 'Greatest Show on Earth' featured colorful acts of fun and death-defying acts 

The massive show ended in 2017, citing low ticket sales and high production costs 

The face of the circus: The show's elephant act, which first debuted as a part of Barnum and Bailey's Circus in 1882, ended in 2016 after PETA protest claimed the circus harmed animals. 'There's been, on the part of our consumers, a mood shift where they may not want to see elephants transported from city to city,' Kenneth Feld, president of Feld Entertainment, said in 2015

Although Feld cited declining ticket sales and high operating costs for closing the tent four years ago, PETA claimed the big top was shut down due to the organization working 'relentlessly for decades' to let customers know what their 'ticket purchase would be supporting.'

PETA protesters would pester those going to watch lion tamers and trained elephants - with some activists dressed in animal costumes and others sitting in cages painted as lions with signs that read 'send animals to sanctuaries' and 'Ringling beat animals.' 

The circus stopped its famous elephant show in 2016. The company owned 43 Asian elephants that were estimated to cost $65,000 a piece to maintain per year. Twenty-nine were relocated to a Florida center, according to The New York Times. 

'There's been, on the part of our consumers, a mood shift where they may not want to see elephants transported from city to city,' Kenneth Feld, president of Feld Entertainment, said in 2015. 

The spectacular show is returning to the ring without the usage of animals, instead favoring light shows and acrobatics performances instead of animals

The show used to have acts involving lions and elephants 

A poodle act was also included in one of many performances from the show 

'The view Ringling always propagated was that you can't have the circus without the elephants,' Matthew Wittmann, a historian, told The New York Times in 2015. 'But the global success of Cirque du Soleil shows that you don't need to have animals of any kind to have a circus.'

Cirque du Soleli, a Canadian-based 'reinvented circus,' debuted in 1987 without the use of animals and became widely popular. 

The Ringling Brothers merged with Barnum and Bailey in 1907 and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn't have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.

The brand enjoyed its last gasp in 2017 with the blockbuster film The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman, which was loosely based on the the rise of P.T. Barnum's epic show. 

'The competitor in many ways is time,' said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks - such as providing a traveling school for performers' children - are throwbacks to another era. 

'It's a different model that we can't see how it works in today's world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you've got all these things working against it,' Feld said

After the death of ringmaster James Bailey - Barnum's business partner - in 1907, the Ringling Brothers bought the show from Bailey's widow. 

The 'Circus King' John Ringling started his show with his family for five cents per show in Iowa. By 1895, the two shows were rivals.  

Ringling, once one of the nation's richest men, would die with $311 in his bank account in 1936 after the show fell to creditors during the Great Depression, according to Business Insider.  

When the circus first debuted, it featured clown masks and scary costumes. P.T. Barnum started Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus on April 10, 1871 in Brooklyn

Barnum said the show would be 'the largest group of wonders ever known' and featured many different acts and costumes

The shows traveled by railcar and performed in many different cities 

The show featured death-defying acts like tightrope walking and colorful performance and brilliant costumes 

The 'Greatest Show on Earth' started out as little as five cents a show and became an empire: The History of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus 

Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth 

After P.T. Barnum's beloved American Museum burned down, he set out on a new adventure, one that would fill stands with eager customers sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the crazy and boisterous acts of Barnum's circus. 

Barnum opened the Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus on April 10, 1871 in Brooklyn, New York. 

'[It will be] the largest group of wonders ever known…My great desire is…to totally eclipse all other exhibitions in the world,' Barnum said. 'Greater than anything he had ever done.'

By 1874, Barnum would open the circus' permanent home: The New York Hippodrome, now known as Madison Square Garden, in Manhattan, New York City. 

It was the largest public amusement structure ever built, seating over 10,000 and costing $150,000 to build. 

 In 1880, a foreign performance The Great London Show impeded on Barnum's American market.

The show's owner James Bailey and Barnum would combine shows in 1881 after Barnum claimed he was a 'showmen worthy of my steel.' 

The Barnum and London Circus opened in New York in 1881. The show would travel 12,000 before ending their season in Connecticut.

The next season, Barnum and Bailey would introduce their first elephant Jumbo - what would become a symbol of the circus culture. 

After only six weeks of performances, Jumbo would gross $336,000 for the show. 

The animal was the main attraction for three years before the animal was accidentally hit by a train in 1885 in Ontario. 

In 1887, Barnum split the circus' management equally between him and Bailey. They would both continue to manage the Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth until Barnum's death in 1891. 

Bailey would continue to build the grand scheme until the early 1900s, when the Ringling Brothers show was reaching similar heights as his show. 

The Ringling Brothers Circus

The seven Ringling brothers and one sister started their show for only a five cents admission in rural Iowa in 1882. 

The show would grow to one ring by 1884 and added its first elephant by 1888. 

Originally carrying their equipment by horse-drawn carriage, the company switched to the railroad in 1890. 

A rivalry began between the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey in 1895 and they agreed to split their shows geographically until the shows combined. 

The Ringing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus 

 The shows combined in 1907 following the death of James Bailey. 

The Ringling Brothers purchased Barnum and Bailey Circus for $400,000 from Bailey's widow. 

They originally continued to operate the two circuses separately until officially combining the shows in 1919, following the rail troubles due to the country's involvement in WWI. 

The combined operation employed more than 1,000 people, 700 horses, and almost 1,000 other animals and traveled in 90–100 double-length train cars. 

The show was a success under John Ringling's leadership until the Great Depression, where the circus fell under the weight of its creditors. 

By 1932, the creditors gained control of the show and one of the richest men died four years later with only $311 in his bank account.  

Source: The Barnum Museum, Business Insider, Britannica, Charles Cushman Collection