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10 Famous Circus Performers From History

Famous Circus Performers From History

For many years the circus was one of the biggest attractions that attracted countless people. Especially in the past, everyone wanted to see the impressive tricks of the artists or admire the dangerous animals up close. The circus also had a number of big stars. You can read all about it in these 10 famous circus performers from history.

London Art Journal

There is no circus profession as well known as that of the lion tamer. One of the most famous lion tamers in history was Isaac Van Amburgh. This man from the nineteenth century seemed to be afraid of nothing and performed the most dangerous stunts. He allowed small children to sit next to the lions without any problem. He also dipped his arm in blood and then put it in the lion’s mouth. His lions were extremely well trained, but unfortunately not in a gentle way.

9. Dan Rice

In the nineteenth century, this New Yorker was one of the most famous circus performers of the moment. Well-known figures such as the American president and Mark Twain were fans of him. What Dan Rice could do? He had a clown act in which he combined slapstick with funny jokes and songs he wrote himself. In the end, this star earned as much as a thousand dollars a week from his own circus. Today, Dan Rice is considered by many to be the true founder of the modern circus.

8. Annie Oakley

Americans love guns, and always have. It is therefore not surprising that Annie Oakley has become a well-known circus artist. This woman knew from an early age how to fire a good shot. In 1870 she married a vaudeville performer and entered the circus. All her acts revolved around sharpshooting. For example, Annie Oakley could blow out a candle with a bullet, hit the side of a card 30 paces away, and even shoot a cigarette from her husband’s mouth.

7. Jules Leotard

This French acrobat went down in the history books for being the first person to perform a flying trapeze act. He rehearsed the act over his parents’ swimming pool and decided to hold the grand premiere in 1859. In one of his acts, he flew between five different trapezes with nothing under him but some old mattresses. Unfortunately Jules Leotard didn’t get very old. He died of an illness when he was 28.

6. Zazel

There is one act in the circus world that has taken on almost mythical forms. Today we mainly see the human cannonball in cartoons, but this act once really existed. It was Rosa Richter with her stage name Zazel who was first seen as a live cannonball in the circus. The cannon was a handy invention of one of her colleagues. Zazel was launched from a plank of springs under tension. During the launch, gunpowder was used to mimic the sound and smell of a real cannonball.

5. Charles Blondin

This athlete actually had everything to become a great circus performer. Charles Blondin was good at jumping, balancing, doing somersaults and dancing. He is most famous for his act as a tightrope walker. In 1859, the Frenchman decided to stretch a tightrope between the American and Canadian sides of Niagra Falls. Then he walked from side to side as if it were nothing. In fact, halfway through, Blondin decided to take a few sips from a bottle of red wine. This stunt has been repeated a number of times by the Frenchman, each time with bigger and more impressive challenges.

4. May Wirth

It’s not easy to ride a horse normally, but in the eighteenth century, horse riders tried to pull off the craziest stunts. Horse riding was very popular at that time, so it is not surprising that some of these acts ended up in the circus. May Wirth’s act is part of that. This woman was able to do somersaults while riding her horse. She could also jump from one running horse to another with a somersault. So riding was a piece of cake for this circus performer.


3. Lillian Leitzel

In the early 1920s, this German circus performer was one of the most famous acrobats in the world. Lillian Leitzel specialized in the rings, which often hung more than fifty feet in the air. Of course there was no safety net to catch the acrobat. During one of her tricks, she was able to spin so fast that her shoulder dislocated. That was no problem for Leitzel, because in no time her shoulder was back in the right place.

2. Oleg Popov

Dijk, Hans van / Anefo

At the end of the twentieth century, Oleg Popov came into play. This Russian man drew full houses with his act as a clown. He showed himself from all kinds of different sides. Popov, for example, was good at mime, but he could also juggle and tightrope walk. He found his greatest success in Germany, where he lived for more than 28 years. There he continued his act as a clown for years. The Russians were also proud of him, because Oleg Popov has received several prizes and awards from Russia.

1. Jumbo

For a long time a circus was not complete without impressive animals. The elephant was always one of the most popular choices. This is especially true for Jumbo. In 1882, this elephant ended up in the Barnum & Bailey circus, one of the largest circuses America has ever known. Thousands of visitors came to see the impressive elephant in person. Jumbo was also popular before his life in the circus. Then he was a big attraction at the London Zoo.

Earlier we made a list about famous circus freaks from the past . Think of the bearded woman, the three-legged man, the hairy girl, etc.

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