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This Is What Over 100 Years Of Circus History Looks Like

After 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has taken its final bow. Here's a final look back at its wild history under the big tent.

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For 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus dazzled audiences with its traveling display of death-defying performances, humorous antics, and exotic wildlife.

But the entertainment came at a cost: Animal rights advocates accused the circus of mistreating elephants, prompting the company to stop using the animals in 2016.

On May 21, 2017, the "greatest show on Earth" closed its doors for good following declining ticket sales and rising production costs.

Here's a look back at how the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus transformed itself across a century of American history.


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Universal History Archive / Getty Images

A 1905 Barnum & Bailey poster advertising the L'Auto Bolide Thrilling Dip of Death as "the most expensive, as well as the most hazardous act ever devised."

Fpg / Getty Images

Performers from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus put on a show for patients at the Bellevue Hospital in New Jersey, circa 1920.

Al Fenn / Getty Images

A 1914 poster advertising the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus features a snarling tiger in mid-leap. The image was originally painted by Charles Livingston Bull and was used extensively by the circus for many years.

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Anthony Camerano / ASSOCIATED PRESS

One of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus acts runs through a dress rehearsal in Madison Square Garden in 1944. The group goes by the name Loyal-Repensky Troupe of Riding Performers.

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Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Circus clowns Blinko and Frankie Saluto from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus help to plant flowers in the Channel Gardens at New York City's Rockefeller Center in 1960.

New York Post Archives / Getty Images

Cecilia Moss, a 6-year-old blind girl, pets a cheetah cub during her visit to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance at Madison Square Garden in 1964.

John Lent / AP

Emanuel Zacchini bursts from a cannon barrel for an airborne trip across Madison Square Garden during a performance on April 9, 1970. Zacchini returned to the act after being sidelined by injuries when he collided with his wife during a performance.

Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images

A group of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey clowns pose for a group portrait backstage in New York City on April 11, 1979.

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Ronald Reagan Library / Getty Images

President Ronald Reagan smiles as he sits in an audience of children at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Washington, DC, on April 15, 1985.

Lyn Alweis / Getty Images

Circus clown Kevin Ryan stops by a Denver children's hospital to talk with 6-year-old Rachal Hermann of Wheatland, Wyoming, in 1988.

Dan Loh / Associated Press

Elephants from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus eat their lunch in Philadelphia's Italian Market on May 28, 1997.

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Boston Globe / Getty Images

Animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams works with a Bengal tiger during a daily training exercise at the Boston Fleet Center on Oct. 18, 1998.

Chris Hondros / Getty Images

Clown Bello Nock waves from atop an elephant as they emerge from New York City's Midtown Tunnel on March 23, 2005. The elephants walked through the tunnel on their way to a performance in Madison Square Garden.

Boston Globe / Getty Images

A student of Perkins School for the Blind meets Omer the horse during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey "touch tour" in October 2008.

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

Trainer Alexander Lacey performs with his lion, Goldy, as his other lion, Masai, sits watching nearby in 2013. During this iteration of the circus, more than 100 artists from 15 countries performed, including artists from Paraguay, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Cuba, and Brazil.

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

In this photo from May 28, 2013, circus performer Hans Klose and his wife Maria Klose help their dog to balance on its hind legs on a single rope.

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

In this photo from May 28, 2013, Alexander Lacey works with his lion Masai onstage during training for a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Mexico City.

Julie Jacobson / AP

Performers take their final bow at the end of the last Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in history, on May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, New York.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson poses for a portrait before taking part in the last weekend of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

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Contact Gabriel H. Sanchez at gabriel.sanchez@buzzfeed.com.

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