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Adam Forepaugh (February 28, 1831-January 20, 1890) 

Submitted by Editor on   5/18/2004
Last Modified

Click here to go to Adam Forepaugh Top #8

Click here to go to Adam Forepaugh/Barry Lubin "Grandma"  Tent 2

Adam Forbach was born (Philadelphia, Feb. 28, 1831) in poverty. Forced to leave school at age 9 to work in a butcher shop for $4 a month and board, he eventually achieved wealth and fame and, at his death, he left a great show and title.

In his youth he gravitated to buying and selling stock. He moved to New York City and soon became one of the city's largest dealers in horses, supplying several horse railroad companies with all their animals as well as stock used by the Brooklyn lines. He made a fortune selling horses to the government during the Civil War.

It was through selling horses that Forebach got into the circus business, at which time he changed the family name to Forepaugh. On posters, his surname often became "4-PAW."

In 1864 he sold 44 horses to John O'Brien for $9,000 to form the Tom King Excelsior Circus. When the note came due, he was forced to take a share of the show as payment.

In April 1865, with O'Brien, he paid $25,000 for the Jerry Mabie menagerie, consisting of 12 cages, two elephants and other animals. The show was divided into the Great National Circus, with Mrs. Charles Warner as the attraction, and the Dan Rice Circus. Rice was kept on, being paid $1,000 per week (according to legend; never proven) and a guarantee of 26 weeks for his services and his name.

Forepaugh took charge of the latter show himself. The same year, he sold three-quarters interest in the Great National Circus to Den Stone, Frank Rosston and George Bronson, and later sold the remainder to Samuel Booth. He continued with the Dan Rice Circus.

In the winter of 1865-1866 the Rice show performed in Philadelphia, at which time Forepaugh severed business relationship with O'Brien and went out under his own name, traveling in .1866 through the East with 22 cages of wild animals. He sent out two one-ring shows in 1868 but the following year was back to one show, a policy he maintained for the rest of his career.

In Louisville on June 10, 1869, he used two round-top pavilions, one for the menagerie and the other for the performance.

When Forepaugh started out with the Rice show, he had 110 horses, 14 cages and one ticket wagpn, with daily expenses of from $500 to $600. By 1877, when the show last traveled by wagons, it used 300 employees, 35 to handle the tents and 65 to drive. By 1880 the outfit traveled on three trains of railroad cars and had 60 cages, 290 horses, 400 employees and a daily expense of $4,000.

Forepaugh was the first to incorporate the Wild West spectacle into his ring performance and was the first manager to exhibit the menagerie under a separate tent in connection with a circus. The idea was contributed by Joel E.Warner and put into effect in 1868 or 1869. The show carried more animals in the menagerie than any other circus, and paid the highest prices for European talent.

Forepaugh was said to be "the master of his business as no man before him was, and as no man probably will be in the future."

In the 1870s Forepaugh's and Barnum's were the two largest shows on the road and were in constant competition, fighting for the same territory until, in 1882, Barnum sued for peace. At that time, they made a two-year agreement to divide the territory and alternate going over the routes. But in 1884 they were at it again with the famed "white elephant" incident serving as the cause.

Forepaugh once exclaimed, "I have a boy and Mr. Barnum has none. My show will outlast his."

It is reported that at one time Forepaugh owned more elephants (39) than Barnum (36), and, remarkably, he had a black elephant trainer named Eph Thompson.

Forepaugh never smoked, chewed or drank. He was said to have a rough exterior, loved a joke, was haughty to his minor employees, shrewd in business and attentive to the small details of his organization. Forepaugh always sat at the main entrance of his show, making his face familiar to everyone who went through the gate. He died Jan. 20, 1890.

Adam Jr. had power of appointment over his father's large estate. Sharing in the estate were Temple University, Morris Animal Refuge and several church and medical centers. Adam Jr. died in 1919.

-The above material is takm from William L. Slout's Olympians of the Sawdust Clrcle-A Biographical Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century American Circus. Thanks also to Fred Dahlinger Jr. of Circus World Museum.




  • Surname often became "4-P A W" on his circus posters. Born in poverty, forced to leave school, he achieved wealth and fame. At his death he left a great show and title.

  • Became interested in circus via "Pogey" O'Brien, who bought horses from him on credit.

  • Acquired an interest in O'Brien's Tom King Excelsior Circus in 1864; partnership ended at the end of the 1865 season.

  • Erected a permanent circus building in Philadelphia, which opened on November 27, 1865. The following spring, he took to the road with the title Adam Forepaugh's Circus and Menagerie, until his death nineteen years later.
  • In 1881, Forepaugh conducted a $10,000 beauty contest for the most beautiful woman in America to take the leading role in his street parade. (Originator of the "beauty contest")

  • For his opening in 1887, Forepaugh obtained a lease from Madison Square Garden, which was customarily used by Barnum and London shows. Compromise was reached, and the two circuses were combined for the NY engagement. In the program, Adam Forepaugh worked thirty of the sixty elephants.
  • In 1880, Forepaugh and Barnum Shows were combined for an under canvas Philadelphia engagement. James A. Bailey and James E. Cooper bought the circus. In the 1890 performance, Adam Forepaugh, Jr. rode and drove thirty-nine horses.

Adam Forepaugh:

  • Twice married, his first wife died.

  • He had one child, Adam Forepaugh, Jr.

  • Forepaugh neither smoked or drank.

  • Owned more elephants in his day - 39 (Barnum - 36)

  • Passed away January 22,1890, age 58, at 1612 Green St., Philadelphia, PA.

  • He is buried in the family vault at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Forepaugh's Competitors: Howes' London, Cooper &. Bailey, W. W. Cole, John Robinson, Sells Bros., and Barnun


1864  Hired Dan Rice at $1,000 per week/Also used his name on one of two shows Had two shows out that season

1869  One show, circus history was probably made June 10th at Louisville, KY by putting 2 tops in the air, one for the circus performance and the other for a menagerie. Fake white elephant (To needle P.T. Barnum)

1878  Rails: 3 sections, 60 cages, 290 horses - 37 cars - 45 feet long -- Took the show to California -- Next added Wild West EMPLOYEES 500 (35 worked on canvas) -- Employees 500 (35 worked on canvas) NUT $4,500 (daily)

1881  Conducted $10,000 beauty contest (Originator)

1882  P. T. Barnum asked for peace and a truce was signed for 2 years by dividing the country. Line from Erie thru Pittsburgh, down the Ohio to Cincinnati; after truce ran out, they went at it again, highlighted the "white elephant war." A second truce was signed. In 1887, a third truce was signed for 4 years.

1888  The show this year had 75 railroad cars 28 flats, 6 elephant cars, 12 horse cars, 20 sleepers, &. 4 advertising cars -- Three famous elephants: Bollivar - Tip- Albert -- Famous (black) elephant trainer Eph Thompson was probably presented by Adam Forepaugh.

Had one losing season - 1876

Best season - 1888

Adam Jr. had power of appointment over his father's estate. Will set aside $8,000 in trust to maintain mausoleum. Excess income had grown to $13,551. Temple University, Morris Animal Refuge, St. Agnes, St. Luke's and Children's Medical Center shared in $10,000 of the excess. "  Adam Jr. died in 1919


The John &. Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Circus Library)
Banner Line May 1, 1983

A History of the Circus In America: George L. Chindahl
White Tops March - April-1948, page 6.

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