These Rare Vintage Photos Show What The Circus Looked Like A Century Ago

Long before radio broadcasts, movies, and television series, the circus was the biggest and greatest entertainment industry in the United States and beyond. Spectators couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse of the talented trick-riders, fearless fire-eaters, amazing acrobats, and exotic animals. Since the first circus ring opened to the public the late 1700s, a lot has changed. The performances have evolved greatly over the last 200-plus years and some of the acts of the past might surprise you. Let’s take a look back at the circuses of yesteryear.

Philip Astley Is Considered The Father Of The Modern Circus

Philip Astley
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The modern circus was created by Philip Astley. Born in 1742, Astley’s childhood dream was to work with horses. He made that dream come true by working as a horse trainer during the Seven Years War. After he was discharged, Astley decided to use his talents to imitate the trick-riders he’d grow fascinated by.

Before long, trick-riders grew increasingly popular and were soon performing throughout Europe. Astley admired them from afar, teaching horse-riding by day and practicing his trick-riding by night.