How Michigan’s Jackson Wagon Company Aided the World’s Most Famous Elephant
Back in the 1800s one of the biggest circus attractions was Jumbo the Elephant. He was world famous and people mobbed to see him whenever P.T. Barnum's circus came to town. So how did he get connected with Michigan?
First a backstory:
Jumbo was born in 1856 in Africa. A safari of hunters came into Africa looking for big game – and they found it. They shot and killed little Jumbo's mother. The hunters then captured Jumbo and sold him to the London Zoo in 1860.
While living in the zoo, Jumbo was confined to a stable that was too small...in the daytime he was brought out to give elephant rides to the kids.
As the years went by, Jumbo's health began to deteriorate, thanks to his poor diet and treatment. Knowing Jumbo was ill, the zoo sold him to P.T. Barnum in 1882. Barnum began promoting Jumbo as “the biggest elephant in the world' and the people bought the hype. Enormous crowds flocked to see Jumbo in unparalleled numbers. As the 1880s wore on, Jumbo was wearing out; he was only in his 20s which makes it sadder – elephants were known to get much older and stay healthier. But not Jumbo, partly thanks to his life as a circus attraction.
Jumbo was having difficulty walking and couldn't march in circus parades anymore...so what did Barnum do? He contacted the Jackson Wagon Company right here in Michigan. He asked if the company could built a wagon sturdy enough to support 13,000 pounds - six-and-a-half tons. The wagon would haul Jumbo down the streets as part of circus parades.
Jackson prison inmates worked endlessly on this special wagon and finally, it was completed. It was sent to Barnum who was now able to display his prize elephant down the streets, promoting the upcoming circus.
According to The Nature Of Things, not long afterward on September 15, 1885 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Jumbo and a smaller elephant “were being loaded into a circus boxcar when an unscheduled freight train came hurtling down the tracks towards them”. It struck the elephants, killing Jumbo after dragging him for 300 feet. The other elephant lived.
Barnum had Jumbo stuffed and put on display in the circus.
Take a look at the gallery below.
Jumbo the Elephant: 1856-1885