Matthew Brady photograph of Barnum's American Museum. Brady's studio was located across the street.
|THE combination of moral dramas and human curiosities broadened Barnum's appeal to the masses. Barnum's museum provided a safe environment where men, women, and children could be simultaneously entertained and educated for the bargain price of twenty-five cents. Barnum's astute advertising methods encouraged museum patrons to establish their own explanations about certain exhibits. His pedagogy exuded itself in the rhetoric used to advertise the curiosities. Ambiguous language and questions such as "Is it a man or is it an animal?" in Barnum's "What Is It?" exhibit of a microcephalic African-American man enabled museum patrons to assume the role of biologist and determine for themselves whether or not the exhibit was a human or an animal.|
Not only was the museum a place for discourse, but it was a safe space for women as Andrea Dennett explains "The American Museum was both affordable and fashionable, and women of all classes were attracted to the wholesome atmosphere stressed by the pedagogical rhetoric of Barnum's museum."19 Barnum catered to women by hosting "Baby Shows" in which prizes were awarded for the "most beautiful baby." Since Barnum's museum was deemed a respectable place to visit, it was an acceptable space in which women could appear in public unaccompanied by a man. Barnum ensured the safety of his female single patrons by providing undercover detectives who would escort any unruly male patrons out of the museum.20
Barnum's combination of the freakshow along with educational displays such as animals and morality plays ensured success for his museum because it created a spectacular space in which entertainment, wonder, and education could coexist. In the competitive world of business, Barnum knew that he needed an ever-changing display of exhibits in order to guarantee a steady stream of business. Barnum's ever-changing exhibits included, "automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists, living statuary, tableaux, gypsies, Albinoes, fat boys, giants, dwarfs, rope-dancers.21 Between 1842-1865, Barnum sold more than 30 million tickets to his museum. Before Barnum purchased Scudder's the yearly profit for the museum had been $11,000. Within the first three years under Barnum's ownership, the museum tripled its profits.22 By the 1850's Barnum's American Museum was bustling with business and a steady stream of exhibits and curiosities. The museum boasted having 600,000 curiosities in 1849 and 850,000 in 1864.23 During the museum's heyday in the 1850's everyone and anyone visited the museum; a trip to New York was not considered complete without visiting Barnum's American Museum. Even the Prince of Wales was sure to include the museum on his itinerary during his trip to the United States on October 13, 1860.
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