Famously known as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the spectacular family entertainment show will be closing its curtains after 146 years. Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, told the Associated Press that “The Greatest Show on Earth” will end operations in May. Feld pointed to declining tickets sales and attendance, along with high operating costs as being factors behind the decision. However, there is one other force which played a major part in changing the career course of clowns, acrobats, tightrope walkers and freak show attractions.

Animal activists coupled with a public change of tastes and attitudes.

The News was broken to circus employees following shows in Orlando and Miami on Saturday night. There are 30 shows scheduled for the “Circus Extreme” and “Out of This World” circus tours between now and May. Over the next four months, most of the shows will take place along the East Coast with stops in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The “Circus Extreme” tour will take place on May 7th in Providence, Rhode Island.

Unemployment hits the circus

The Feld family employs around 500 people to help operate the circus. Only a handful of workers will transfer to positions at other shows such as Disney on Ice and Monster Jam, which are also owned by the company.

The company will assist employees who live in train cars by finding new housing accommodations for them.

An end to a piece of iconic American history

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus got its start two start two decades before the Civil War began in the U.S. Initially, it was a showcase for human oddities and a zoo.

It became an official circus in 1881 and was made famous by Phineas Taylor, “P.T.” Barnum. The Feld family acquired ownership of the enterprise in 1967. For over a century, millions have been drawn to the circus for the death-defying acts of acrobats, flashy costumes and exotic animals. Then, animal activists protested against forcing animals to perform, arguing that it was cruel and unnecessary.

After a long and costly legal battle, the company removed their prized symbol - the elephants - from their shows and moved them to a conservation farm in Central Florida. Feld’s daughter Juliette stated that after the removal of the elephants, ticket sales dropped dramatically. Juliette Feld pledged homes will be found for llamas, lions, tigers and the rest of the circus animals as well.

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