James Bailey is probably the least known of the founders of the soon to close Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. An orphan born in Detroit in 1847, Bailey began working in circuses while in his early teens. He became a partner in James E. Cooper’s troupe while still in his 20s.
Cooper died in 1873; Bailey soon partnered with famed impresario P.T. Barnum. Bailey took over the whole outfit when Barnum died in 1891; it became one of the most successful circuses in the country until his death in 1906, when the Ringling brothers bought it.