The Business of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Like any big stars, these elephants have to look their best when they perform. These decorative headpieces add some pizzazz and function as a grip for trainers and performers. Made from two-ply harness leather by Classic Leather Works of Altoona, Florida, the headpieces are adorned with a metal shield and small metal rivets, manufactured by Ringling Bros., that say "The Greatest Show on Earth." Leatherworker Don Engleking founded Classic Leather Works in 1997. The two-employee shop makes about 25 elephant headpieces for Ringling Bros. each year, along with holsters and accessories for Old West gun enthusiasts.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Funundrum tour will stop at more than 40 U.S. cities this year. During each leg, crowds will eat about half a ton of popcorn, popped fresh in machines made by Gold Medal Products. The Cincinnati company also supplies the circus with cotton-candy and snow-cone machines. David C. Evans started Gold Medal in 1931, initially selling inks, pastes, and glues before switching to "fun foods." Evans's son, J.C., is chairman of the business, which is now run by president Dan Kroeger. It has more than 350 employees, and its customers include ice cream shops and movie theaters around the world.
Weighing as much as 10,000 pounds each, these Asian elephants don't live on peanuts alone. Their diet consists of hay, vegetables, and roughage, along with grain-based feed provided by Smelt Feed in Tampa. Smelt also supplies feed and some hay for the circus horses, dogs, llamas, and zebras, sourcing it from farmers, brokers, and pet-food company Purina. Owner Alton Smelt runs the $2 million company, which his father, Jack, founded in 1981. It has seven employees and serves zoos and theme parks nationwide, including Busch Gardens in Tampa.
They may dangle 35 feet above the ground, but the circus's trapeze artists can take comfort knowing their equipment is safe. The wire ropes, shackles, and support rigging, supplied by Southeast Rigging of Jacksonville, Florida, are made of galvanized steel and load-tested to be certified secure. Co-owners Dan Giannattasio and Scott Elliott bought the 15-employee company in 2002 from a larger Baltimore-based wire supplier. The bulk of the company's roughly $7 million in sales comes from supplying wire rope and rigging for construction, marine, and roadwork projects.
00:07 Eric Markowitz: The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus started in 1919. It couldn't have become the greatest show on earth without the help of a few businesses to help bring all the parts of the show together.
00:20 Markowitz: For performances and other parts of the show, wire ropes, shackles, and support rigging are strung throughout the big top. The wires are able to support one and a half to two tons each and are supplied by Southeast Rigging in Jacksonville, Florida.
00:35 Markowitz: Before the audience grabs their seats, they often stop for popcorn or cotton candy. The concession machines are made by Gold Metal Products of Cincinnati, Ohio, which was started as an ink manufacturer for just $2000 in 1931.
00:50 Markowitz: The audience members aren't the only ones who get fed at the circus. The show animals receive a diet of hay, vegetables, and roughage provided by Smelt Feed, a Tampa, Florida company, provides approximately a ton of feed and six and a half tons of hay each week to keep the animals happy.
01:08 Markowitz: Finally, the big stars of the show are the elephants. During their performances, they wear leather and metal headpieces that are made by Classic Leather Works of Altoona, Florida. Each of the metal shields and harnesses weigh approximately fifty five to sixty pounds and are emblazoned with "The Greatest Show On Earth."
01:28 Markowitz: And that is the business of a circus.
Behind the Scenes: The Circus
Here's a look at the companies that provide the concession equipment, trapeze rigging, elephant headpieces and food for the animals as you enjoy the greatest show on Earth.