Photos: 146 years of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’

American showman P.T. Barnum is shown in 1882 at an unknown location.  In his lifetime, Barnum was an entrepreneur, museum owner, politician, journalist, impressario and creator of his circus "The Greatest Show on Earth" in 1871.  In 1881 he merged with his competitor and formed Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Barnum was born in Bethel, Ct., in 1810 and died in 1891.  (AP Photo)
American showman P.T. Barnum is shown in 1882 at an unknown location. In his lifetime, Barnum was an entrepreneur, museum owner, politician, journalist, impressario and creator of his circus “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1871. In 1881 he merged with his competitor and formed Barnum & Bailey Circus. Barnum was born in Bethel, Ct., in 1810 and died in 1891. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, right, performs during the opening of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Wednesday, June 14, 2000, in North Little Rock, Ark. Iverson, 24, is the youngest ringmaster ever for the circus. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, right, performs during the opening of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Wednesday, June 14, 2000, in North Little Rock, Ark. Iverson, 24, is the youngest ringmaster ever for the circus. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/DANNY JOHNSTON)
A woman walks a tightrope at the circus in 1955
A woman walks a tightrope at the circus in 1955 (AP/Bob Wands)
A Ringling Brothers Circus elephant walks out of a train car as young children watch in the Bronx railroad yard in New York City, April 1, 1963.  The circus opens in Madison Square Garden April 3 for a 40-day engagement.  (AP Photo)
A Ringling Brothers Circus elephant walks out of a train car as young children watch in the Bronx railroad yard in New York City, April 1, 1963. The circus opens in Madison Square Garden April 3 for a 40-day engagement. (AP Photo) (AP)
Actress and model Brooke Shield sits tall atop an elephant as she participates in the Galaxy of Stars Gala for the benefit of Vista Del Mare Child Care Services, during the opening of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on July 21,1982 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut)
Actress and model Brooke Shield sits tall atop an elephant as she participates in the Galaxy of Stars Gala for the benefit of Vista Del Mare Child Care Services, during the opening of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on July 21,1982 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut) (AP/NICK UT)
Three-year-old Richard Caglione sheds tears as a stranger, in this case, Emmett Kelly, featured clown with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, picks him up during New York’s first circus parade in 19 years on April 9, 1945, which launched the first phase of the Seventh War Loan Drive. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano) (AP/Anthony Camerano)
With a princely gesture, circus midget Prince Paul presents flowers to three English girls who are in the show, backstage during the New York run, April 14, 1953. The girls are: left to right, Pat Cooper, who is from Devonshire; Shiley Coomas and Brinda Elliot, both of London. (AP Photo/VN)
With a princely gesture, circus midget Prince Paul presents flowers to three English girls who are in the show, backstage during the New York run, April 14, 1953. The girls are: left to right, Pat Cooper, who is from Devonshire; Shiley Coomas and Brinda Elliot, both of London. (AP Photo/VN) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/VN)
(AP/JN)
Brain Hayes, 5, greets one of the elephants that arrived aboard the circus train for a week stand in Philadelphia on March 29, 1966. (AP Photo/Warren M. Winterbottom)
Brain Hayes, 5, greets one of the elephants that arrived aboard the circus train for a week stand in Philadelphia on March 29, 1966. (AP Photo/Warren M. Winterbottom) (AP/Warren M. Winterbottom)
The “spectacular” act, of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is seen as the circus opens in Madison Square Garden in New York on April 5, 1966. (AP Photo/John Lent)
The “spectacular” act, of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is seen as the circus opens in Madison Square Garden in New York on April 5, 1966. (AP Photo/John Lent) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/John Lent)
Former Beatle Paul McCartney samples his young daughter Stella's cotton candy as the two sit on the sidelines at New York's Madison Square Garden, March 30, 1974, watching the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
Former Beatle Paul McCartney samples his young daughter Stella’s cotton candy as the two sit on the sidelines at New York’s Madison Square Garden, March 30, 1974, watching the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Suzanne Vlamis)
Stevie Wonder, right, with daughter Ayesha Clowning with clowns backstage at the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey circus during the intermission on Monday, March 27, 1978 at New York?s Madison square garden. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Stevie Wonder, right, with daughter Ayesha Clowning with clowns backstage at the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey circus during the intermission on Monday, March 27, 1978 at New York?s Madison square garden. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Richard Drew)
Actor Charlton Heston is shown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus clown Prince Paul on Tuesday, July 19, 1978 during the City of Hope’s Celebrity Circus opening in Inglewood, California. Heston played the ringmaster in the original motion picture “The Greatest Show on Earth.” (AP Photo/Mclendon)
Actor Charlton Heston is shown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus clown Prince Paul on Tuesday, July 19, 1978 during the City of Hope’s Celebrity Circus opening in Inglewood, California. Heston played the ringmaster in the original motion picture “The Greatest Show on Earth.” (AP Photo/Mclendon) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Mclendon)
Former President Richard Nixon shares a laugh with "Sam" the clown from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, at the Brendan Byrne Arena on Nov. 26, 1982 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Nixon was at the circus with his grandchildren. (AP Photo/David Bookstaver)
Former President Richard Nixon shares a laugh with “Sam” the clown from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, at the Brendan Byrne Arena on Nov. 26, 1982 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Nixon was at the circus with his grandchildren. (AP Photo/David Bookstaver) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/David Bookstaver)
Kevin Thompson, celebrating his fourth year in Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey's famed Clown Alley, watches as 9-year-old Jonathon Young tries his hand at clowning during a visit by the circus troupe to Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, California, Sept. 14, 1984. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing)
Kevin Thompson, celebrating his fourth year in Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey’s famed Clown Alley, watches as 9-year-old Jonathon Young tries his hand at clowning during a visit by the circus troupe to Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, California, Sept. 14, 1984. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Liu Heung Shing)
An American flag is held over the head of House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Ga., during a Capitol Hill performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and bailey circus, Wednesday, April 5, 1995 in Washington. The circus played Capitol Hill to mark its 125th anniversary and the final week to House votes on the Republicans “Contract with America.” (AP Photo/Joe Marquette)
An American flag is held over the head of House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Ga., during a Capitol Hill performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and bailey circus, Wednesday, April 5, 1995 in Washington. The circus played Capitol Hill to mark its 125th anniversary and the final week to House votes on the Republicans “Contract with America.” (AP Photo/Joe Marquette) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Joe Marquette)
Members of group P.E.T.A. protest outside the Hartford Civic Center on the opening day of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Wednesday, May 9, 2007, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Members of group P.E.T.A. protest outside the Hartford Civic Center on the opening day of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Wednesday, May 9, 2007, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Jessica Hill)
New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, center, doffed with a red clown nose and ringmaster's top hat, is joined by Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus clowns Chris Allison, left, and Karen DeSanto, right, at City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1999, in New York.  (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, center, doffed with a red clown nose and ringmaster’s top hat, is joined by Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus clowns Chris Allison, left, and Karen DeSanto, right, at City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1999, in New York. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/MARTY LEDERHANDLER)
Elephants from the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus take a stroll through downtown Boston on their way to lunch at Boston's Fanueil Hall Marketplace, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1997.  The circus is scheduled to perform in Boston from Oct. 8 through Oct. 19, 1997.  (AP Photo/Angela Rowlings)
Elephants from the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus take a stroll through downtown Boston on their way to lunch at Boston’s Fanueil Hall Marketplace, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1997. The circus is scheduled to perform in Boston from Oct. 8 through Oct. 19, 1997. (AP Photo/Angela Rowlings) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/ANGELA ROWLINGS)
Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I. The circus closes its own chapter on a controversial practice that has entertained audiences since circuses began in America two centuries ago. The animals will live at the Ringling Bros. 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I. The circus closes its own chapter on a controversial practice that has entertained audiences since circuses began in America two centuries ago. The animals will live at the Ringling Bros. 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) (AP/Bill Sikes)
Members of the China National Acrobatic Troupe perform Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Members of the China National Acrobatic Troupe perform Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) (AP/Bill Sikes)
A performer waves as elephants with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show, pause for a photo opportunity on 3rd Street in front of the U.S. Capitol on their way to the Verizon Center, to promote the show coming to town, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A performer waves as elephants with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show, pause for a photo opportunity on 3rd Street in front of the U.S. Capitol on their way to the Verizon Center, to promote the show coming to town, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (AP/Alex Brandon)
Fred Johnson, 67, a banner artist of the old school, puts the final touches to huge banners on July 14, 1959 to be used in the new circus museum being installed at Baraboo, Wis. where the John Ringling Bros., circus began. Johnson still plys his art with a Chicago tent and awning firm. He began painting circus banners in 1909. (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)
Fred Johnson, 67, a banner artist of the old school, puts the final touches to huge banners on July 14, 1959 to be used in the new circus museum being installed at Baraboo, Wis. where the John Ringling Bros., circus began. Johnson still plys his art with a Chicago tent and awning firm. He began painting circus banners in 1909. (AP Photo/Edward Kitch) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Edward Kitch)
Princess Grace of Monaco, center, and her son Prince Albert, left, chat with clown Duanne Cunningham, Tuesday night, March 29, 1977, at New York's Madison Square Garden. The princess and her son came to watch the opening night performance of the 17th edition of Ringling Bros. and Barium & Dailey Circus. (AP Photo)
Princess Grace of Monaco, center, and her son Prince Albert, left, chat with clown Duanne Cunningham, Tuesday night, March 29, 1977, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The princess and her son came to watch the opening night performance of the 17th edition of Ringling Bros. and Barium & Dailey Circus. (AP Photo) (AP/Anonymous)
Big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey performs with lions and tigers Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey performs with lions and tigers Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) (AP/Bill Sikes)
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson performs Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson performs Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) (AP/Bill Sikes)
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American showman P.T. Barnum is shown in 1882 at an unknown location.  In his lifetime, Barnum was an entrepreneur, museum owner, politician, journalist, impressario and creator of his circus "The Greatest Show on Earth" in 1871.  In 1881 he merged with his competitor and formed Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Barnum was born in Bethel, Ct., in 1810 and died in 1891.  (AP Photo)
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, right, performs during the opening of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Wednesday, June 14, 2000, in North Little Rock, Ark. Iverson, 24, is the youngest ringmaster ever for the circus. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A woman walks a tightrope at the circus in 1955
A Ringling Brothers Circus elephant walks out of a train car as young children watch in the Bronx railroad yard in New York City, April 1, 1963.  The circus opens in Madison Square Garden April 3 for a 40-day engagement.  (AP Photo)
Actress and model Brooke Shield sits tall atop an elephant as she participates in the Galaxy of Stars Gala for the benefit of Vista Del Mare Child Care Services, during the opening of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on July 21,1982 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut)
With a princely gesture, circus midget Prince Paul presents flowers to three English girls who are in the show, backstage during the New York run, April 14, 1953. The girls are: left to right, Pat Cooper, who is from Devonshire; Shiley Coomas and Brinda Elliot, both of London. (AP Photo/VN)
Brain Hayes, 5, greets one of the elephants that arrived aboard the circus train for a week stand in Philadelphia on March 29, 1966. (AP Photo/Warren M. Winterbottom)
The “spectacular” act, of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus is seen as the circus opens in Madison Square Garden in New York on April 5, 1966. (AP Photo/John Lent)
Former Beatle Paul McCartney samples his young daughter Stella's cotton candy as the two sit on the sidelines at New York's Madison Square Garden, March 30, 1974, watching the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
Stevie Wonder, right, with daughter Ayesha Clowning with clowns backstage at the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey circus during the intermission on Monday, March 27, 1978 at New York?s Madison square garden. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Actor Charlton Heston is shown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus clown Prince Paul on Tuesday, July 19, 1978 during the City of Hope’s Celebrity Circus opening in Inglewood, California. Heston played the ringmaster in the original motion picture “The Greatest Show on Earth.” (AP Photo/Mclendon)
Former President Richard Nixon shares a laugh with "Sam" the clown from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, at the Brendan Byrne Arena on Nov. 26, 1982 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Nixon was at the circus with his grandchildren. (AP Photo/David Bookstaver)
Kevin Thompson, celebrating his fourth year in Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey's famed Clown Alley, watches as 9-year-old Jonathon Young tries his hand at clowning during a visit by the circus troupe to Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, California, Sept. 14, 1984. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing)
An American flag is held over the head of House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Ga., during a Capitol Hill performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and bailey circus, Wednesday, April 5, 1995 in Washington. The circus played Capitol Hill to mark its 125th anniversary and the final week to House votes on the Republicans “Contract with America.” (AP Photo/Joe Marquette)
Members of group P.E.T.A. protest outside the Hartford Civic Center on the opening day of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Wednesday, May 9, 2007, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, center, doffed with a red clown nose and ringmaster's top hat, is joined by Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus clowns Chris Allison, left, and Karen DeSanto, right, at City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1999, in New York.  (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
Elephants from the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus take a stroll through downtown Boston on their way to lunch at Boston's Fanueil Hall Marketplace, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1997.  The circus is scheduled to perform in Boston from Oct. 8 through Oct. 19, 1997.  (AP Photo/Angela Rowlings)
Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I. The circus closes its own chapter on a controversial practice that has entertained audiences since circuses began in America two centuries ago. The animals will live at the Ringling Bros. 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Members of the China National Acrobatic Troupe perform Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
A performer waves as elephants with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show, pause for a photo opportunity on 3rd Street in front of the U.S. Capitol on their way to the Verizon Center, to promote the show coming to town, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fred Johnson, 67, a banner artist of the old school, puts the final touches to huge banners on July 14, 1959 to be used in the new circus museum being installed at Baraboo, Wis. where the John Ringling Bros., circus began. Johnson still plys his art with a Chicago tent and awning firm. He began painting circus banners in 1909. (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)
Princess Grace of Monaco, center, and her son Prince Albert, left, chat with clown Duanne Cunningham, Tuesday night, March 29, 1977, at New York's Madison Square Garden. The princess and her son came to watch the opening night performance of the 17th edition of Ringling Bros. and Barium & Dailey Circus. (AP Photo)
Big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey performs with lions and tigers Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson performs Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, R.I., during the show where Asian elephants made their final performance in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

WASHINGTON — The ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ will end in May, the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press.

Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

Here are photos from the circus 146 years of entertainment and controversy.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.


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