January 9, 1768: Philip Astley stages the first modern circus.


On this day in history in 1768, legendary horse rider Philip Astley and his troupe of trick riders staged the first modern circus in London, England.  He is credited with the introduction of the circus ring and later with the addition of clowns, acrobats, tightrope-walkers, jugglers, and performing animals.  In honor of this acrobatic equestrian, here are 13 things you didn’t know about the greatest show on Earth.

  1. The ideal diameter of a circus ring is 42 feet long.
  2. The Circus Maximus in Rome existed as early as 500 BC.   By 30 BC, it could seat more than 150,000 people.
  3. The average pair of clown shoes is size 28EEEEE.
  4. Elephant hairs are considered a good luck charm by circus performers.
  5.  The knee-hang, hocks-off, swing, plange, whip, splits, pullover, birds nest, passing leap, and straddle whip are all types of trapeze maneuvers.
  6. Cotton candy was first sold at a circus in 1900.
  7. Early writers claimed the first circus games were staged by goddess Circe in honor of her father Helios, the Sun.
  8. Circus aerialists call their safety harness a “mechanic.”
  9. The color green is traditionally considered bad luck by circus performers, as is whistling under the big top.
  10. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.
  11. “The World’s Strangest Married Couple” was sideshow act Al Tomaini, an 8’4 giant, and his legless wife Jeannie.
  12. A funambulist is a tightrope walker, from the Latin funis (rope) and ambulare (to walk).
  13. The first flying trapeze act was introduced in Paris in 1859.  Perhaps alarmingly, a catcher was not added to the act until 1870.