Advance Team Advertising

Circus Bill Posting and Advance Advertising Cars

Part One By Fred D. Pfening, Jr.

Bandwagon, Vol. 17, No. 6 (Nov-Dec), 1973, pp. 4-16.

In the golden days of the circus large amounts of money were spent on the advance advertising. The shows used large newspaper ads, heralds, courier booklets and small picture cards, but the bulk of the expense went for colorful posters of all sizes and the cost of putting them up.

The “big three,” Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and The Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Enormous Shows United, were consistently the largest users of circus printed advertising of all kinds. Each of these circuses used at least three advance cars for many years. John Robinson’s Ten Big Shows, The Great Wallace Shows and the Walter L. Main Circus also used more than two cars during many seasons.

alt="Circus Bill Posting and Advance Advertising Cars"This drawing of the Adam Forepaugh Circus advance car appeared on a letterhead used by the advance during the 1884 season. It is typical of the design of the advance cars of that period. Woodcock Collection.

The crews of the advance cars were made up of a number of different jobs. The car manager was in full charge and was totally responsible for the operation of the car to the show’s management. The boss bill poster was in charge of the outdoor posting of “wall work,” and served as the number two man on the car. The lithographer placed the “window work” (mostly half and one sheet posters, but sometimes up to three sheet) in store windows. A programmer handled the distribution of heralds and courier booklets. Also included were a paste maker, perhaps a porter, and a bannerman who tacked cloth banners to the sides of buildings. The remainder of the crew were bill posters.

William Cameron Coup, of Delavan, Wisconsin, a man of rare talent, introduced many innovations to the circus. The advance of the circus did not go untouched by Coup.

In 1873, while associated with P. T. Barnum he ordered the first three and twelve sheet posters. In the late 1870s while touring his own W. C. Coup’s United Monster Shows, he equipped his three advertising cars with noisemakers, as well as billposters. His first car carried a huge mechanical organ which was hauled through the streets by an elephant. The second advance car had another huge organ, without an elephant. The third car boasted a “Devil’s Whistle”, powered by steam. The three cars traveled about a week apart, each car had a crew of fifteen to twenty-five men.

Between the first two cars a colored brass band arrived at each stand with another group of billposters. At intervals before the Coup show actually arrived, a uniformed squad of trumpeters rode through the back country loudly trumpeting, a band of colored jubilee singers marched through village or city streets carrying glad tidings of a coming circus day.

The advance of the Cooper, Bailey & Company, Great London Circus, Sanger’s British Menagerie and International Allied Shows, in 1879 was under the direction of James A. Bailey. The London show carried two advance cars that season, plus a brigade.

By 1881 the Barnum and London shows were combined and the show used three cars plus an excursion brigade, an opposition brigade, and a skirmishing brigade. Each of the advance cars was equipped with a steam calliope.

During the 1882 season the Barnum & London show used a total of five advance cars with crews totaling 60 men. The show dropped the fifth car in 1884, continuing for many years with four cars.

Adam Forepaugh a formidable and aggressive competitor of the Barnum show died on January 22, 1890. James A. Bailey and James E. Cooper bought the circus and enlarged it and in 1891 took the show on a transcontinental tour as far west as New Mexico.

During the 1891 season the Forepaugh show used four advertising cars. The No. 1 car the “Husler” carried 24 men, the No. 2 car, the “Rattler” carried 21 men, the No. 3 car the “Cannon Ball” had a crew of 23 men and the No. 4 car the “Settler” had an 18 man crew.

In 1895 The Great Wallace Shows used four cars. Each car carried a manager, a boss bill poster, a lithographer, a programmer, plus 12 bill posters on Car No. 1; 10 bill posters on Car No. 2; 7 bill posters on Car No. 3; and 6 bill posters on Car No. 4.

During the season of 1897 the Barnum & Bailey circus used four cars. The Barnum show carried a larger staff on their cars. The No. 1 car, in addition to the manager, carried a “stenographer,” a boss bill poster, a programmer and a car porter, plus three lithographers and fifteen bill posters. The No. 2 car carried a manager, a boss bill poster, an assistant bill poster, two who handled “lithograph boards,” a checker-up, a porter and twelve “excursion men.” The No. 4 car carried the manager, a boss bill poster, a route rider (inspector), a ticket agent, an assistant ticket agent, a porter, a banner man, a programmer and ten bill posters. The No. 3 Barnum & Bailey car in 1897 was the Opposition Car. This car may or may not have followed the route of the show as the others did. It was often sent way ahead hop-scotching on the route to post opposition paper ahead of another circus that was scheduled in a town along the contracted route. It was used during “billing wars” with other shows in some cities where one show was covering the other show’s paper. The Opposition Car carrier a manager, a boss bill poster, an assistant boss bill poster, seven bill posters, two bannermen (who tacked cloth banners on the sides of buildings too high to reach with brushes and paste), two lithographers, a programmer and a car porter.

In 1897 the Ringling Bros. Circus used three cars. Sixteen bill posters were on the No. 1 Car; 16 bill posters were on Car No. 2 and thirteen excursion bill posters (who took local trains to nearby cities along the rail line) were on Car No. 3.

In 1899 the John Robinson Circus used three cars, but they were smaller carrying only 8, 7 and 5 bill posters respectfully.

In 1900 the Forepaugh-Sells Circus used three cars with 21 men on the first car, 15 on the second car and 11 on the third. One of the men on each of these cars was a paste maker.

It was the job of the advance advertising car to tell one and all that the circus was coming. Three different types of pictorial advertising were used. During the period from 1895 to 1900 the main thrust was the use of multi-sheet designs that were larger than one sheet (30 x 40″ and later 28 x 42″). Ranging from 3 to 64 sheet sizes a display was arranged in combination with date sheets making a “daub,” by the bill poster using brushes and paste. A daub might consist of a single 48 sheet menagerie design with a title streamer above and a six sheet date at each end. Or it might consist of a grouping of 12 and 16 sheet designs with dates. The larger multi-sheets were called “wall work.” These daubs were posted on barns, fences and the sides of buildings. Large temporary billboards were sometimes erected by the circus to receive a large stand of multi-sheets.

The half, one, and two sheets were called “window work” and were hung in store windows by a lithographer using long sticks, called quills, and gummed stickers. A heavier use of small paper came a bit later when locations for the really large paper became more difficult to find.

Cloth banners were tacked to the sides of buildings, usually on buildings three stories or higher. A banner man would hang on a ladder from the roof of a building or work on a ladder from the ground. Banners as opposed to window and wall work had to be removed, and the show would contract with a local man to pull the banners and remove the tacks after show day. In later years the show would send its own men back to pull the banners, to be used again in another city.

The lithographed circus poster owes its beginning to the experiments of one Aloys Senefelder, a native of Prague, who discovered a method of printing from a flat lithographic stone about the year 1796. Senefelder made use of hearth stones by etching them so as to raise the printing surfaces of the stone in relief, but in his experiments, he discovered the real principle in lithography – in short: a daub of grease on a clean polished stone would receive printing ink and refuse water, while the other parts of the stone not affected by the grease, would retain moisture and refuse to take the ink. Thus the natural principle of mutual repulsion of grease and water was brought into play.

Senefelder attempted to interest the German government in financing his development of the art of lithography but to no avail. He went to France and succeeded in getting a governmental appropriation of $6,000, with which to promote his enterprise.

As lithography gained in popularity as a method of printing, lithography in colors was introduced in London in 1840. Since then, there have been great numbers of improvements in the art, and today multicolored presses of great size turn out poster works of art. From the basic principle of lithography came off-set printing, the method used to print the Bandwagon.

The earliest circus poster known to exist today is a full color bill used by the Raymond and Waring Circus in 1847. The rare poster is a part of the collection in the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Another very early color poster is part of the Harry Hertzberg Collection, located in the San Antonio, Texas library. This display is 58 x 115″ in side and advertises the “Hippoferean Arena.” It is dated April 19, 1849. The two old posters are reproduced here.

The circus has made greater use of illustrated posters for advertising purposes than any other type of amusement or business enterprise, and this fact has prompted the frequent use of the descriptive phrase “billed like a circus” in referring to the extensive use of poster advertising.

During the golden days of the circus from 1880 to about 1910 a number of printing firms thrived in filling the insatiable needs of the big outdoor amusement enterprises.


alt="Circus Bill Posting and Advance Advertising Cars"

In 1866 the Frank J. Howes Champion Circus posted this bill stand for the Watertown, Wisconsin stand

      . Watertown Historical Society Collection, by way of Circus World Museum.

But prior to that time the Spaulding & Rogers show purchased lithos from Sarony & Major, of New York City and the Gibson Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, during the period from 1849 to 1865. The posters in our collection from these two firms are in two colors. Sarony & Co. supplied Sands & Nathans with lithos in 1856. John Reilley & Company of New York City furnished pictorial paper to Hyatt Frost in 1874 and to the Great North American Circus in 1878. The Chicago Evening Journal printed paper for D. W. Stone in 1878. The Calhoun Printing Company, of Hartford, Conn., furnished lithographs for Buffalo Bill in 1886. Merrihew & Sons, of Philadelphia, provided posters for the Great London Circus as well as Adam Forepaugh in 1880.

The Russell-Morgan Company of Cincinnati, printed posters for John Robinson 10 Big Shows in 1878, Barnum & London in 1882 and Sells Bros, in 1885. Early Russell-Morgan work is truly outstanding.

The John E. Jeffery Printing Company of Chicago designed and lithographed a number of beautiful posters for Adam Forepaugh as early as 1884 and for the King & Franklin Wild West in 1888. The Empire Show Printing Company of Chicago furnished paper to Adam Forepaugh in 1889.

The Donaldson Lithographing Company of Newport, Kentucky, provided paper for the J. A. LaPearl Circus in the 1890s and Forepaugh-Sells in 1907. Donaldson continued supplying circus paper through the 1930s.

alt="Circus Bill Posting and Advance Advertising Cars"

Circus World Collection – Cole Southern Circus and Menagerie

This one sheet poster in color was printed by woodcuts and was used by the W. W. Cole New York and New Orleans Circus about 1871.

In the early days two firms began to emerge as the giants of the circus advertising field. One of these was the Courier Company of Buffalo, New York, who listed itself as the “world’s largest show printer.” The exact date this firm was established is not known, however Courier supplied posters to W. W. Cole in 1871, and by 1878 the firm was supplying P. T. Barnum. In 1882 the Sells Bros, purchased paper for their Welsh & Sands show and continued in succeeding years. The Courier Company continued to provide posters to Barnum & London as well as Barnum & Bailey.

By 1890 when the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Show had become a major circus they went to Courier. Some of the finest designs of Ringling paper of the 1890s came from Courier. The Courier firm supplied paper to the Ringlings as late as 1906. The company suffered a fire around that time which may have curtailed their poster printing, but Courier continued to print the programs for both the Barnum and Ringling shows through the 1915 season.

One lithographing company stands out above all others in the circus field, both in quality and in longevity. The name Strobridge is synonymous with circus posters.

The origin of the firm began with the establishment of an engraving shop by Elijah C. Middleton in Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1847, in the Odd Fellows Building at the northwest corner of Third and Walnut streets. Originally the business embraced the sale of books and stationery and engraved work on copper and steel. The business prospered and the owner saw the “new” lithographic process as a cheaper and more flexible method of reproduction. Middleton joined forces with W. R. Wallace, a lithographic engraver who had moved to Cincinnati in 1849. A partnership was formed and the firm of Middleton & Wallace, in 1849, began the history of over a hundred years of continuous lithographic production. The firm was a success from the start as business was booming at the time, however it was soon clear that they could not carry on without additional capital. In 1854 the 31 year old Hines Strobridge entered the firm and it became Middleton, Wallace & Company. Wallace soon withdrew from the firm and Middleton left in 1861. In 1857 the name was changed to Middleton, Strobridge & Company, and in 1865 to Strobridge and Gerlach, or Strobridge, Gerlach & Wagner, and by 1867 it was Strobridge & Company. The name was finally changed to the Strobridge Lithographing Company in 1880 and continued as such throughout its long history.

It is not definitely known when the first pictorial work was made in the circus field. However, Nelson Strobridge, who succeeded his father as President of the firm, recalled an early black and tint lithograph of Dan Rice, and suggested the date as around 1868. In 1874 the firm produced a lithograph in four colors of a parade for the John Robinson Circus, another Cincinnati product.

The old order books of the company record a number of sales in the early 1870s, one in 1872 listed 5,000 circus posters in eight colors sold to A. A. Stewart, which were probably for the Cooper & Bailey show.

The Strobridge company did keep some examples of its early circus work that are bound in a number of large books. These several hundred half and one sheets from the late seventies and early eighties include such famous circus names as: Barnum, Bailey & Hutchison; Howe’s Great London; Sells Brothers; W. W. Cole; W. C. Coup; S. H. Barrett; and Nathan & Company. Four of these books are now in the circus poster collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Over the years the company designed and produced hundreds of designs for the Barnum & Bailey show, and when that show went to Europe at the end of the 19th century Strobridge supplied paper with German, French and other languages in the descriptive copy.

The Ringlings used much Strobridge paper and many of the Strobridge Barnum & Bailey designs were retitled to read Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows in 1919. A few of the lithos with the RB & BB title list a Barnum copyright date prior to 1919. In the 1920s when the American Circus Corporation gained stature it went to Strobridge for Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace and John Robinson lithographs.

In the late 1920s the Ringling-Barnum circus left Strobridge and went to other firms with whom it had also been doing business. Erie, Illinois, and Central supplied paper for all of the Ringling owned shows in the 1930s. This was the period when the ownership of the circus was out of the hands of the Ringling family.

When John Ringling North gained control of the circus in 1938 he went back to Strobridge for a series of new lithographs. These were: two designs of Gargantua, two designs of Frank Buck, one of the spec with Frank Buck, one of Terrell Jacobs with a mixed wild animal act and one of Jacobs with a leopard act, the Pilades, leaping act and one of a dressage horse display. To the best of our knowledge the Strobridge company printed no circus paper after the 1938 Ringling Barnum order.

Our reference to the Strobridge Company would not be complete without including some of the artists that actually created the wonderful original poster designs.

Matt Morgan, a leading lithographic artist of the period joined the firm in 1878, after spending five years with Leslie’s Weekly as a cartoonist. Morgan’s arrival brought the creation of the first Strobridge multiple-sheet poster, in the form of a 16 sheet. The subject was “Eliza Crossing the “ice.” The idea of the large poster caught on fast with the circus customers. With the introduction of the large multiple-sheet poster in the late 1870s the circus had found a natural medium of advertising; barns and fences were readily available to receive such large pieces. W. C. Coup used the first three sheets in 1873.

In 1881 Harry A. Ogden joined the Strobridge organization. In sheer volume Ogden contributed more original circus poster designs than any other individual. He had great dexterity as an artist, a real flair for detail, and a photographic memory that allowed him to make quick sketches in proper perspective during a circus performance which he would then later expand into full detail in his studio, located in the firm’s New York office.

Some samples of Ogden’s detailed sketches are shown here. The originals were ink and wash in black and white tones with the colors indicated for the Cincinnati artists to complete.

In a letter written by Harry A. Ogden to P. M. McClintock, dated August 29, 1932, the artist outlined some of his technics. We quote here from the letter, which is now in our collection:

“I am not surprised at Mr. Strobridge’s reference to my work for the Strobridge Co. (and exclusively for them) for over fifty years. Many thousands of designs being for the circus . . . The wall work or large posters grew in size from 3 or 6 sheets, going to in one case a 100 sheet. The window bills, one and half sheets, were drawn the size to be printed. The wall bills were drawn (by me) to 1/16 scale and enlarked at the home office. In such a lapse of time there were many varieties of subject. Simple and with few subjects or animals at first, later being crowded. . . . I have been gratified at times to be designated as the best in the ‘show’ business in this line of work. But the fine treatment received from the company I confined my work to, called forth the best I was capable of.”

The famous leaping tiger poster used by Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows was drawn by the famous animal artist Charles Livingston Bull. This poster was a Ringling trade mark and was used in railroad and fast traffic showings as it presented an oversized figure in a small space. Roland Butler copied the tiger drawing for a Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus poster around 1960 which is still being used by the Beatty-Cole show today.

Another Cincinnati firm was to have its start around 1888. The Enquirer Job Printing Co. of the River City supplied some of the finest lithographs to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Early examples of this company can be found in the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This firm now around 95 years old, remains in 1973 as the single largest, and perhaps only supplier of circus pictorial posters.

At this point an explanation of the sizes of circus posters is in order. In the December 1961, issue of The Bandwagon an interesting article appeared titled “Hods, Daubs and 24 Sheets,” by the late Frank A. Norton. This issue was sold out long ago, so we shall use Mr. Norton’s information regarding the various sizes of circus lithographs.

A “one sheet” is a poster or lithograph 28″ x 42″ in size and is the base from which all “bills” are measured. There are half sheets, one, two, three, four, six, eight, nine, twelve, sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two and forty-eight sheets.

The 1/2 sheet, 1 and 2 sheet bills may be uprights or flats. An upright is vertical and a flat is horizontal. A half sheet is 28″ x 21″ and a two sheet is 42″ x 56″. A three or four sheet is always an upright. A six sheet is simply a bill printed in 2 three sheet sections. A sixteen sheet bill is printed in 4 four sheet sections, and the 24 sheet (billboard size) is made the same way.

A panel may be a 1/2 sheet or a one sheet and is always an upright. There is also a “streamer” bill and it may be from two to six or nine sheets in size. These are long horizontal posters, usually a title.

Lithograph designs were of various types. Stock paper was printed in large quantities by the printing house and carried no title. They may have been clowns, lady riders, elephants, horses or other general circus subjects. A show owner would select the designs he liked and the printing firm would imprint the show’s title, or “cross line” it with the title being pasted on. Special paper carries the name of a performer or special features appearing on only that show. Date sheets are special paper, as is a “letter” bill which carries only the show’s title and no illustration.


Cole 100 Sheet

The famous 100 sheet W. W. Cole poster was the largest ever printed. It was five sheets high and 20 sheets long or about 15 x 65 feet. It was used in the early 1880s

Louis E. Cooke, in his “Reminiscences of a Showman” tells of his purchase of lithographs. Cooke served as general agent of Barnum & Bailey as well as the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. In the installment on advance advertising he commented as follows.

“I believe that I am credited with having designed and used the largest lithograph ever printed or posted – a 100 sheet bill [for the W. W. Cole’s New Colossal Shows]. As the original cost of the first 1,000 copies exceeded $10,000, it was aptly designated a ‘ten-thousand-dollar-bill.’ Its dimensions were simply great, being twelve feet high and one hundred feet in length, consisting of one hundred mammoth sheets of paper, lithographed in six colors from solid stone impressions and presenting an artistic appearance equal to the most choice chromo. The production of this monster panorama absorbed the entire time of fifteen artists, designers, engravers and pressmen for a period of three months. Six cylinder presses were kept running night and day and electric light was used exclusively to make the colors harmonize in this master piece of lithography, which was produced by the Strobridge Lithograph Company, Cincinnati, Ohio.” Cook continues,

“Speaking from a practical standpoint, I would say that in a single season, as general agent of two of the biggest amusement enterprises [Barnum & Bailey and Buffalo Bill] in the world, I have operated as many as six advertising cars and employed over 150 men, covering fully 200 towns in one day and using from 15,000 to 25,000 sheets of paper as an average. To this we may add from 25,000 to 50,000 pieces of distribution matter, such as small publications, programs, booklets, etc. All of this work had to be laid out in advance, as it would be too late to take up details one day with another.”

During the period when the large circuses toured three and four bill cars, a show would select a printing house and contract for paper in a quantity that would fill their needs for the complete season. As previously mentioned, the leading lithograph houses at the end of the 19th century were the Strobridge Lithograph Co. and the Courier Lithographing Co. Both of these firms provided a full staff of artists who designed special new paper each season, for those circuses under contract. Both companies also printed letterheads, couriers, heralds and various contract forms. The special art would be incorporated in the different types of advertising in addition to the lithos.

All dealings between the circus and the litho house were extremely business like. The printing firm used shipping lists that detailed the number of each size and design of posters to be used each day. A shipment would frequently be made to include three days supply of wall work and ten days of window work.

The oldest such list that we have in our collection is one from Strobridge to Howe’s London Circus for the 1877 season. One hundred each of the following were shipped: seven designs 30 x 40″ and nine designs 26 x 34″.

Another Strobridge list covered paper shipped to the No. 3 car of Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth during the 1889 season. Sixty-five different designs are listed. The No. 3 advance car was the opposition car whose job it was to cope with the billing of other shows, thus there are no one sheets listed, and only 12 styles of two sheets. Twelve styles of six sheets are listed, one eight sheet streamer design, twenty-one different nine sheet designs and fourteen twelve sheet bills. The original season order contracted for 1000 copies of most of the bills. Eight thousand of the eight sheet streamers were ordered, four thousand of the six sheet Barnum portrait bills, four thousand (train) excursion bills, four thousand two sheet “Arabs” and two thousand of each of the remaining two sheet posters were listed.

Another shipping list covered the Strobridge shipment to the Sells Bros. Enormous United Shows for the 1893 season. The following amounts were called out for use each day. The largest was a 64 sheet design of the circus and hippodrome, seven of these were used daily. Seven each of two different 48 sheet designs, three different 12 sheets and 3, 6 and 7 of each of these was called out. Three copies of a nine sheet bill were used.

In addition to the above the window work consisted of twenty-nine different one sheet bills and 13 of each of these were to be used each day.

The smaller circuses used a wide variety of paper also. A shipping list in the Hall papers at the Circus World Museum from the Riverside Printing Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the William P. Hall Shows for the 1905 season lists sixty-seven different designs and sizes of lithographs. The largest posters used by the Hall circus were 24, 20, 18 and 16 sheets. Three styles of 12 sheets, ten 9 sheet bills, two 8 sheets, nine 6 sheets and three 3 sheet designs. Twenty-eight different one sheet posters were used by Hall.

The management of the bill crew was a specialized art, and a car manager was expected to not only direct the men but also to outsmart the opposition cars and contract for especially good bill posting locations owned by local bill posting (Snipe plants) companies.

It was the usual practice to pay a building or barn owner with passes to the big show, but other locations were purchased. These purchased locations were termed “cash daubs.”

The purchased billing stand locations and boards were paid by the use of an “outside bill poster check” to be presented at the ticket wagon at 5 p.m. on the day of exhibition. (All bills payable in silver coin). One such check in our collection was used by the Ringling Bros. Circus for the Saginaw, Michigan, show date of July 5, 1915. A. D. Hood was paid $70.56 for the exclusive use of 504 sheets of billboard and other advertising space for the period from June 14 to July 5. No tickets were added to this contract, but 2 tickets were also usually included in the deal.

Each bill poster or lithographer kept a daily record of the work he did that day. The report included the address, the type of occupant, the owners name, the number of sheets posted and the number of passes given, plus the number of the pass. These individual reports were totaled by the car manager and then totaled again at the end of the week.

A route inspector (route rider or checker) would then later go over the route verifying that the number of sheets of paper recorded was actually in each location. One Ringling Bros, route inspector’s report for the August 31, 1908 stand at Mason City, Iowa, covered the billing route posted by one Joe Ludwig. Ludwig reported he posted 539 sheets of paper and issued 22 tickets (passes) to the owners of 13 locations. Six of the daubs were posted without having to issue any passes. The report verified this.

The back of this report carries a form with such interesting questions as: Does the total amount of paper posted, the quality of work done and the class of boards and daubs secured, indicate that the bill poster did a faithful day’s work? At what place did he post too much paper? At what place did he not post enough paper? What undesirable spaces did he use? What desirable spaces did he leave open? At what places did he unnecessarily recover our paper? Another note on the back states, “In case any of our paper being covered by another show, the route rider must send a report of same to each car manager, giving name of show, stating where and how many sheets were covered. In case No. 2 or No. 3 man partly recovers daub put up by No. 1 or No. 2 man and counts more than he actually puts up, report to car manager.” It is clear that the bill posters and lithographers did not work on the honor system.

The bill posters would cover country routes and towns as far as 50 miles from the exhibition city. Local trains would be taken to the outlying towns and local horse teams would be contracted for the closer routes. One check for country teams shows that Ringling on September 6, 1913, paid Gill V. Trotter $29.00 for the use of four teams at $5.00 each for billing country routes and two teams at $4.00 each for city billing, plus $1.00 for baggage transportation. By 1920 autos were hired for this use.

The bill posters day would begin with a 4:30 a.m. wake up call by the car porter, followed by a hearty breakfast. The teams would report at 5 a.m. and the day’s work would begin. The 1900 route book of the Forepaugh-Sells Circus contains a short article entitled “A Day on An Advance Car.” We quote:

“While the daily routine of circus life with the show is familiar to all, none but those who have traveled on an advance advertising car, have a well formed idea of a day’s doings there.

Here is activity from dawn to dusk and for several hours later. One may wonder ‘when do they sleep,’ for as early as 5 o’clock in the morning the advance couriers are up and doing, and long after sun down they come straggling back from all roads leading to the town, besmirched with paste and dust, face and hands fairly scorched by the sweltering sun, but having to their credit anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 sheets of pictorial paper, staring in the faces of citizen, villager and farmer alike. And even then the day’s work is not done. By lamp-light the paper must be laid out for the following day; lithographs must be dated, paste must be made, and a full score of minor details attended to before the weary bill poster can open his bunk and lay down for a few hours’ sleep. By 5 a.m. he is up again, gets breakfast, and is off, either to the country or to the city boards; and so on each day from the season’s beginning to its close.”

Further insight into the operation of an advance advertising car in the 1890s can be gained from an article written by Harvey L. Watkins and published in the 1893 route book of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Titled “The Advance Brigade, A brief outline of its important work.” The article tells of the activities of the four cars, No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 used by the show in 1893. We quote:

“The work of the advance advertising cars of such a colossal amusement enterprise as the Barnum & Bailey ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ has kept pace with the growth of the show itself, and whereas only a few years ago the bill posters on an advertising car would have thought 2,500 sheets of paper a good day’s work, now 5,000 is only an ordinary amount. This will be news to many of those in the business today who years ago traveled with wagon shows, and who may imagine that no more labor is necessary in the year ’93, to properly advertise, than was deemed sufficient when they had charge of ‘a show.’ ”

The following may be taken as a fair example of a day’s work this season, in the way of posting bills, that is pictorial printing on billboards, exclusive of window lithographs, and is taken from the books on Car No. 2, Henry C. Heges, manager, wherein an account of all work done is systematically kept.

Sheets posted in Buffalo, N.Y. – 6,400
Sheets posted in Rochester, N.Y. – 5,478

It is easy to see from this that the average per day is nearly, if not quite, 5,000 sheets in all places for every working day, and includes the city and country work, for this car alone. Probably the largest country route ever billed was one out of Rochester, N.Y., on August 11, 1893, when bill posters Joseph Plant and Chas. Diggens of Car No. 2 drove a distance of 32 miles into the country and put up the enormous number of 1,310 sheets in one day, as follows:

In East Brighton – 77 sheets
In Penfield – 194 sheets
In East Webster – 225 sheets
In West Webster – 205 sheets
In Sea Breeze – 353 sheets
In Forest House – 108 sheets
Road Daubs – 148 sheets
Total – 1,310 sheets

During the season of 1891 Joseph Plant and Joe Williamson made this same route and posted 1,100 sheets, which was considered big work even at that recent date.

Probably few have ever calculated what an advertising car accomplishes when it does a good day’s work in a town. From the following a fair idea may be had. Generally there are from five to six country routes, two men on a route. Each team will average a thirty-five miles drive a day, which for the six teams makes 210 miles; the town team will cover six miles; twelve men in the country and six in town make eighteen men; fourteen horses and eighteen men. The other advertising cars will do the work over again, and as there are three of them the foregoing totals would have to be multiplied by four with this result. To properly bill a town, the miles traveled in the country would be 600. The town wagons would travel 24 miles, the sheets posted would be nearly 15,000, the number of sheets posted would be nearly 15,000, the number of horses used would be 56, the number of men employed in the work about 60, all of which exclusive of window lithographers, general distribution of small advertising (heralds and couriers), and special billing in railroad towns. Verily, advertising the Barnum & Bailey Show has come to be an art, and only experts are capable of taking part in the labor.

Two weeks after Car No. 2 has done its share of the advance billing, Car No. 4 makes its appearance with Al Reil, manager. Car No. 4 last season was two weeks in advance of the show and expended most of its force in doing ‘excursion work’ alternating with Car No. 6 in charge of G. P. Campbell, and which later performed the same character of advertising work as its alternate No. 4, each car making three towns a week and remaining two days in every town to be exhibited. This season the time as well as character of the work has been changed. Car No. 4, while still two weeks ahead of the show, sends its men into the country to bill, and puts out the one sheet lithograph boards, at the same time renews the paper in town should the latter require it. Car No. 6, now in charge of W. H. Dumont the successor of G. P. Campbell, (a change in managers having been deemed necessary) comes along a week after Car No. 4, and, therefore, one week ahead of the show, and while both of these cars do ‘excursion work’, some town work, also secure advantageous places to bill not contracted for, besides distributing (programming) quantities of small advertising material. From this brief description those with the show unfamiliar with the advertising methods may get a good idea of the immense amount of labor necessary and the character of the work accomplished by some of the advertising cars.

Car No. 1, Michael Coyle, manager, starts out so early in the spring, going over the route so rapidly, making contracts (for billing locations) as it goes, that it is seldom talked of, except by those against whom all its efforts are directed (opposition shows). It is the ‘far advance’ car, being sometimes five months ahead of the show, always in the van, and going where its services are most needed. The work performed is similar to that of all the other cars, for it bills the town and country, puts lithographs and one sheet lithograph boards, makes all kinds of contracts and deserves more space than can be afforded here. Suffice it, all are laborers in a common field, but the harmony and good-will pervading the entire advance brigade, is such as to make labor and work a pleasure to all. Never in the history of shows has such a well organized ‘advance’ been seen as that for the past dozen years of the Barnum & Bailey Show, and the season of 1893 is but a duplicate of its predecessors.” The above material indicates that the routing and use of the various advance cars was flexible under the master hand of the show’s general agent, in the case of Barnum and Bailey in 1893 an all time great – Louis E. Cooke.

The 1895-96 route book of the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows contains an article on the advance cars by Willard D. Coxey. The boasts of the amount of sheets posted in an average day is somewhat tempered in the Ringling version. Coxey says,

“From forty to sixty miles a day is the average drive for the country billers, and the posting of five hundred sheets of paper along a route is not considered an extraordinary day’s work for a good man, although three hundred is the average. In order to thoroughly ‘bill’ the country around the city in which the show exhibits four to seven two-horse wagons are required. The teams are hired in each town, and each wagon has a driver and one or two bill posters. The bill posters are instructed to return in time to leave on the car when it departs for the next stand, whenever it is practicable to do so. If, owing to the arrangement of the railway schedules, the car has to leave at an early hour in the afternoon, the men who go into the country are given transportation (show script), and instructed to take the first train on their return and rejoin the car in the next town.

The posting in the place where the show is to exhibit is done by the ‘town gang’ under the immediate supervision of the boss bill poster. The ‘town gang’ covers from six hundred to three thousand running feet of billboards, in addition to a large number of daubs each day.

The manager as well as the bill posters sleep in the advertising car. The sleeping accommodations on the Ringling Bros.’ advertising cars are unusually ample. The cars are furnished with folding beds arranged like the upper berths of a Pullman sleeper, and the men have lockers for their clothing. Meals are secured in hotels, where arrangements are made in advance by the contracting agents who precede the first car.

Each car carries its own supply of billing matter. From fifteen to twenty days paper is loaded at a time. It is received by freight or express, and every shipment requires the capacity of a box car to carry it. With twenty days paper on the advertising car there is no chance for the springs to play see-saw. There are a dozen or more cans of paste as big as barrels, and usually a ton of flour occupies the ‘well’ under the car. It requires about five barrels of flour a day to keep each of the cars supplied with paste. Each car has its own boiler, and ‘cooking’ paste is one of the numerous duties of the busy bill poster. The paste is made with steam, and blue stone is mixed in the ‘dope’ to prevent fermentation. In this way the paste can be kept a considerable time, even in the warmest weather.”

The Red Wagon Annual, a route book of the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows, season of 1898, contains perhaps the largest amount of space devoted to the advance advertising cars in a circus year book. The Ringling show in 1898 carried three cars and a scribe was appointed on each car to record interesting and unusual happenings throughout the season. The following have been selected to illustrate the atmosphere of life on a circus bill car prior to the turn of the century.

From the No. 1 Car, called the “Royal Irish Mail” comes the following:

“Louisville leads off the second week after a long Sunday run from Murphysboro, Illinois. Rain Monday. One of the new men with the smallest route on record, excuses himself on the pleas that he ‘was afraid of getting his paper wet.’ A. G. Ringling meets the car in Louisville, and goes through to Lexington enroute to Eastern opposition stands. At Huntington we discovered that the notorious Sam Myers, a contract crook, has been presenting himself as an agent of the show, and has decamped, leaving his board bill unpaid. Charleston, West Virginia, is Friday’s stand. The hyphenated member of the circus syndicate [Forepaugh-Sells] billed in ahead of us. A. G. Ringling has answered the guns of the enemy with a heavy fusilade of flashy paper and merry circus war, which lasts until show day is inaugurated.

Strict authorities at Williamsport. Making paste on Sunday prohibited. Plenty of opposition at Connellsville. Two other shows billed in ahead. Persistent rain at McKeesport. Pittsburgh – Two days. Toughest town in America to bill. Butler town authorities object to high billboards. Several days of opposition.

Rival bill posting (local) firms at Worcester. The one we don’t use gets out ahead of car and contracts daubs in suburban towns. Public sensibilities jarred by seeing the discarded, but venerable, old city hall, a relic of colonial days, covered with pictorial announcements of the rival firms. Foxey Italian gets three contracts for the side of his fruit shack and then tries to rent it to an opposition show. At Lawrence the manager takes an involuntary soup bath at the dinner table. The girl who drops the soup plate on him giggles and vows she’ll never do it again.

Bad hotel at Winsted. Chickens on a strike, and eggs scarcer than hen’s teeth. Two enterprising town girls apply to Stevens, the programmer, for a job ‘passing bills.’ ‘Steve’ falls into a trance and the girls are frightened away. At Weedsport, Stevens graduates from programmer to bill poster and throws up his first sheet of paper. Bluski, by merest accident, of course, covers the tyro with paste.

Laid out at Woonsocket over Sunday. Second baseball battle of the season. Treager and Titus leading the opposition nines and the Treagerites win a glorious victory.

Gain a day at El Reno. Bill the town at night. Best billboards of any town its size in the country. All high grade flooring lumber.”

The tid-bits from the No. 2 Car included:

No. 2 stands alongside Buffalo Bill car No. 1 at Washington and Baltimore, the men fraternize. The knowing ones say it looks suspicious, and intimate that the opposition has been purposely “worked up” to create talk.

General gathering of rival show agents at Pittsburgh. Fred Beckman and E. H. Woods, of the Buffalo Bill, in advance of the opposition. At Butler both the Wild West and Main shows try to shut us out, but without success. At Utica all hands are invited to visit Sig Sautelle’s circus, and the proprietor makes an eulogistic announcement of the coming of the big show. Trouble galore at Troy. Rival billposters, and rival claims for billboards contracted for the “World’s Greatest.” More Wild West opposition, but town beautifully billed in spite of all obstacles.

At Dubuque, Reeves breaks the record for No. 2, in a town of that size, using 2,000 window lithographs in good locations. Owing to opposition most of No. 2’s billing for Cedar Falls is done at Waterloo, the “big suburb” of the Falls.

Meet car No. 1 of the Forepaugh-Sells show at Cedar Rapids, while waiting for the train to West Union. The erstwhile enemy is treated to lemonade, which is always “on tap” Sundays on the intermediate advance car.

Here are a few quotes from the scribe on the No. 3 car:

The “last shall be first” is literally fulfilled at St. Louis, where No. 3 opens the season a week ahead of the “Irish Mail.” To be precise, the excursion car opens March 23, and bills “the city at the end of the bridge” for the opening of the big show at the magnificent Coliseum. Bad weather necessitates re-billing the second, and even third week to some extent, and there is no time for play or pipe stories. The record in the city is 13,983 sheets, with 4,000 sheets of window work. The excursion billing aggregate 8,277 sheets. The No. 3 also thoroughly banners St. Louis. At Winsted the car is anchored under the windows of a pin factory. Some of the boys are still writing six page epistles to the fair pin makers. At Niagara Falls several men representing a small opposition show are arrested for helping themselves to our boards without asking permission, and fined.

Montpelier! Daubs are plentiful again, and Kettler’s scheme to anchor 24 sheet pictorial banners on captive balloons falls flat. While lying at Sleepy Eye advertising car No. 1 of the John Robinson Show passes through. Wm. Dale, manager, and George Cook, programme manager, extend fraternal greetings.

Forest City furnishes a surprise. The landlord invites the boys up to the desk and turns on his phonograph. The voices of Sam Hamant, Mike Conners and W. D. Coxey, of Car No. 1, readily recognized, Peoria offers opportunity for heavy railroad billing, and gets it. Over 6.000 sheets in country and 450 renewed in town.

For the record in 1898 Ringling’s No. 1 car carried 25 men, car No. 2 had a crew of 18 and car No. 3 sixteen men.

The Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows used four advance cars in 1892, but dropped the fourth car for the 1893 season. The Barnum show continued using four cars until it went to Europe. Upon its return for the 1903 season The Greatest Show on Earth again used four advance cars, but by 1905 it too dropped the fourth car. In 1902 the Great Wallace Show used only three cars.

In 1906 another important change in the operation of the advance cars was evident on the Barnum show. New or remodeled cars contained a galley, and with the addition of a chef and a waiter on each car the full crew was then fed on the car as opposed to eating at hotels.

R. M. Harvey, contracting agent of the Barnum show in 1906, wrote a description of the No. 1 car which appeared in the November 3, 1906, Billboard. Harvey described the car as follows:

“The first of the group of advertising cars in advance of the Barnum & Bailey Shows is a seventy-foot car, having six wheel trucks and equipped with all the requirements of the Master Car Builders Association and is fit to be attached to any passenger train. The outside of the car presents a neat and an attractive appearance, being a bright red and although the decorations are of a modest character and in gold the average person does not have any trouble in recognizing it as ‘that show car.’

At one end of the car is the kitchen. Here all the appliances and utensils found in the modern and best dining cars are to be seen, presided over by as capable a chef (Walter Humphries) as ever prepared any hotel menu. Passing through the passage way at the side of the kitchen we enter the paste or boiler room. The large upright boiler required for the generating of the steam for the cooking of the twenty barrels of paste used by this car daily, is always ready for inspection. The paste cans and buckets are stored in this room while immediately underneath in the cellar large quantities of the best winter wheat flour is constantly kept in stock, so that paste is always available. D. Coates is the expert paste maker of the car, and gives his entire attention to the paste department.

Going through the hallway the visitor enters the private office of the manager of the car. Lester W. Murray has for several years been the master mind of the car, and that he has been successful is attested by the facts that a surprisingly large amount of work is accomplished by the men and that they literally love him as their ‘father.’ Mr. Murray’s private office is furnished with red tapestries which give it the appearance of an aristocratic oriental den. In this den is found a nice roll top desk, a safe, a file case, a stenographer’s desk, a typewriter and other necessary office furniture, while in one corner of the apartment is the lavatory with hot and cold running water.

The other half of the car contains the bill room, buffet and sleeping car combined. Berths for 28 men. In the day time the sleeping car becomes a large bill room, and Tom Conners may be seen laying up the ‘stands’ of paper, the product of five different printing houses. At meal time the room becomes a dining room.”

The addition of a kitchen in the car allowed the car manager to fete the crew to especially fancy meals on holidays and at the close of the season, a tradition that was practiced back on the show.

On Saturday, November 3, 1906, the closing day of the season, of the Barnum & Bailey No. 1 car, manager L. W. Murray, tendered such a meal to members of the car in appreciation of the faithful services rendered. A special menu was printed for the occasion. The menu was enclosed in a brown cover with a purple ribbon, just as elegant as the special menus published for the special meals back on the show.

And what a meal was prepared by chef Walter Humphries, it included the following delicacies: Raw oysters, with celery and stuffed olives. Oysters stewed in cream. Roast stuffed turkey, with peas, creamed potatoes and mashed turnips. Boiled live cracked lobster and asparagus tips. Plus individual ice creams as well as both mince and lemon pie, followed by cake, fruit, nuts and candy, and a selection of tea, coffee, chocolate and milk. Cigars were passed afterwards. A note in small type at the bottom of the menu states, “Ask the waiter for individual toothpicks and use the paste buckets for finger bowls.”

The smaller shows were also beginning to serve meals on the cars, and this practice continued on into the 1920s with the circuses owned by the American Circus Corporation, as well as most other 10 and 15 car circuses.

A special menu was printed to commemorate the annual Thanksgiving Dinner given the 16 members of the crew on the Sun Brothers World’s Progressive Shows advance car on November 27, 1913. This was a rather fancy meal also. The Billboard of December 2, 1911, carried an article telling of a special menu prepared by chef Monroe Jones, on the closing day November 12, 1911, of the Downie and Wheeler Circus advance car. It is not known if a menu was printed or not for the special meal. Special closing day menus appeared to be the rule on all cars carrying a kitchen.

Information gained from Billboard files indicates that most of the other 10 and 15 car circuses served meals on their advance cars in this period.

The Young Buffalo Wild West car in 1911 carried 16 men plus a chef. Jones Bros. Circus in 1915 carried 14 men plus a chef. The Great Sanger Circus in 1912 carried 14 men and a chef. The policy of Jerry Mugivan of feeding on the Sanger car continued throughout the history of all of the advance cars operated by the various circuses of the American Circus Corporation. The Christy, Sparks, Gentry, Main, and Heritage Bros, circuses in the 1920s carried a chef on their cars.

In 1916 Edward Arlington brought an innovation to the operation of the advance car on the Buffalo Bill-101 Ranch Wild West Show, when he started carrying and utilizing automobiles for town and country billing. The May 13,1916, Billboard carried an article with a photo of three Model T Ford cars next to the car. Arlington announced that the cars were proved a success, not only from the standpoint of efficiency, but also because of its economy. The No. 2 car carried three machines, which so expedited the work of the country billing that it was found practical to make two routes every day with each machine, thus covering six routes a day. Where there were only four routes they were negotiated by two cars and the third one was used for town billing. The cars were illuminated with the name of the show, and attracted a great deal of attention.

The article went on to say that until the advance reached St. Louis both the No. 1 and the No. 2 cars were run together. This was done experimentally in order to see whether or not it was feasible. The success attending the operation of the two cars in conjunction, one utilized for the manager, the press bureau and the bill posters and lithographers, and the other for carrying the autos and a dining department, was so pronounced that Mr. Arlington arranged for a third advertising car. A little later in the season he planned to again run the first two cars in conjunction. A motorcycle with a side car was also carried, it was used by the car manager and the press agent in getting around town and also was used for checking up on billing routes and in lithographing outside towns. Soon after this a number of shows began hiring autos and trucks in place of horse teams for country billing routes.

Most of the advance cars used in the 1920s by such circuses as Sparks, Barnes, Gentry, Main and Christy were like the one used by the Howe’s Great London Circus and Van Amburgh’s Trained Wild Animal Shows during the season of 1921. L. A. “Dude” Schrack, a CHS member from Mansfield, Ohio, has been helpful in reaching back in his memory to 1921 when he was a member of the bill crew on the Howe’s car. His comments follow:

The layout of the car was as follows, galley occupied one end of the car, very shallow but the width of the car, next was the dining area, two tables seating six or eight each, when the tables were struck up it became the sleeping area with four men up and four down. The chef and some of the older men slept here as they couldn’t make it into the upper berths. A narrow aisle along one side of the car from the dining area past a stateroom, which contained an office desk and chair and I believe a foldup upper bunk above the desk. The other side of the office had lower and upper bunk beds which I think were permanent.

Moving past the office stateroom into the billers area there was a center aisle which ran back to the two side doors. Wooden cupboards waist high on either side of the aisle contained 30 days supply of paper. The tops or counters of the cupboards provided the flat space for the lithographers to circus the paper and paste on the date tails. This was done each day after the men returned in the afternoon. There were only upper berths in this section of the car and two men slept in each berth. The space between the two large side doors was generally taken up with storage of large cans, barrels and kegs that the paste was made in. There was a steam boiler used in making the paste, a wash room and a compartment for a electric generator and sleeping space for the car porter who served as paste maker, in the end of the car.

There were 27 men on the car when we started out, that was two more than the 25 tickets the show had purchased to move the car, so each time the car was hooked on to a passenger train and was to be checked by the conductor two of the smallest men on board had to be hid in the paper cabinets until after the check was made.

My best recollection is that everyone ate breakfast and supper on the car, the town lithographers came back to the car for lunch in nearly all of the cities. The men billing the country routes were given lunch money. The banner men generally came back to the car for lunch also. One horse wagons were hired for the country bill posting routes, and in a few towns touring cars may have been rented.

The show rented space on 24 sheet billboards owned by a local firm, and in some cases they may have furnished the transportation for the local bill posters.

The food served on the car was good and plenty of it, pork chops every day and twice if you ate lunch on the car. We generally hunted up a barbershop twice a week that had bathtubs to let at 25 cents for a bath, soap and a towel.

The brush men were mostly old men and boozers and I doubt if they could have worked for anyone else. Their only clothing was a pair of bib overalls and a cast off suit coat. Their table manners were terrible, I had heard of “sword swallowers” but I had never seen so many guys that didn’t know what a fork was for and ate everything off of a knife.

One more important part of the car was the “posum belly” that extended below the outside of the car between the wheels. This storage area was used for ladders, long handled brushes, cloth banners and all sorts of junk.

Another first for circus advance advertising cars came in 1923 when the first all steel car was used by the Ringling-Barnum Circus. The June 2,1923 Billboard commented:

“The first advertising car of the Ringling Bros, and Barnum Bailey Circus is in Boston this week with George Goodhart in charge. It is expected that the new all steel advance car will reach Boston from Bridgeport in time for the material to be loaded to the new car from the old one, and it is expected that the first car will leave Boston with the new equipment.”

A description of the new car was printed in the July 7, 1923 Billboard:

Recently an all steel Pullman coach, 80 feet in length, modern, sanitary and comfortable in every respect, was parked in the New York Central yards in South Bend, Indiana. Manager George Goodhart, 42 years in show business and grown gray in the service of the Ringlings, sat at his oak glass-topped desk checking his reports.

From this description it would appear that this car was the first to provide shower bath facilities. Although we can find no firm evidence it appears the Ringling cars discontinued feeding on the car in 1920. No chef was carried in 1922 and there was none in 1921. However all of the cars we can find a record of in the 1920s other than Ringling Barnum did continue to carry a galley and a chef. Each of the cars carried the contracting press agent, but the usual practice was for the press agent to eat up town and not on the car.

In 1922 the Sells-Floto show carried two cars as did Al G. Barnes. But all other rail shows, except Ringling-Barnum with three cars, used only one. The John Robinson car in 1922 carried 23 men, the No. 1 car of on the South Bend routes. The finest of copper screens protect the wide open windows, a soft-purring electric fan overhead kept the air circulating. Complete office equipment was conveniently at hand. Upper berth, shower bath, toilet facilities and home comforts make the compartment a wonderful place to live and work while traveling. Adjoining and furnished in duplicate is the press office and home of Sam J. Banks. The sides of this bill car differ in no way from the regular Pullman coach. There are just as many windows. These side windows furnish ventilation and an abundance of light for the workers to sort and arrange the thousands of sheets of lithographs and dates kept in the mammoth paper bins occupying the space on both sides of the center aisle. Above are the berths for the workman. Further on are more berths, upper and lower, clothes lockers and the paste department, where the six to eight barrels of paste used in each town is cooked by steam and mixed ready for the brigades. Car No. 1 sometimes uses twenty-five barrels of flour a day for paste. Only the very best, first quality cooking flour is used, for it is found that this makes the best paste. The car has a dynamo for furnishing electricity for lighting. The car is said to be the first all steel advance car especially constructed for the task ever on the tracks.

Sells-Floto carried 26 men, the No. 2 Sells-Floto car had 17 men, the Sparks car 23 men, the Christy car 17 men, the Walter L. Main had 19 men, Hagenbeck-Wallace 25 men and Al G. Barnes No. 1 car carried 22 men, in each case a chef was a member of the crew.

In 1928 the Ringling-Barnum show dropped its third car and all other rail shows touring used only one car. A letter in our files lists the salaries for the advance on the John Robinson show and William P. Backell, car manager received $60 a week plus expenses. Only William J. Lester contracting agent on the show received a higher salary, $75.00.

The Ringling-Barnum show continued to use two advance cars through the 1940 season and then dropped to one. A second car and a brigade moved by station wagon and by passenger train. As many as 17 station wagons were used and the total number of men handling bill posting, lithographing and banner tacking averaged between 40 and 45 men during the 1940s. By 1950 only 19 men were on the bill car and 15 men were on the brigade. The crew on the car dropped to 12 in 1952 with 5 on the brigade. However in 1954 the advance car crew was boosted to 20 with 9 on the brigade, but was retired at the end of the season. In 1955 the year before the tent show went off the road only seven men handled all of the advance advertising, working from trucks.

Carnival Sound Truck Advertised For The Carnival

Sound Trucks Announced That The Carnival or Circus Was In Town

Drawing the crowds for the carnival with the sound trucks

alt="Sound Trucks Announced That The Carnival or Circus Were In Town"

One thing the show owners of old knew was the value of advertising in many forms. That’s why circuses always had a big mainstreet parade through the towns they played. In those parades they displayed exotic animals and intricately carved wooden band wagons with uniformed musicians and noisy horse drawn steam calliopes showcasing the pageantry of the big shows as a “teaser” to attract the townsfolk to come out to the lot for the grand performance later that day.

Carnivals, which usually were going to be playing the spot all week, used Sound Trucks  to announce that the show was in town. Sound Trucks announced that the carnival or circus was in town by going up and down the streets of the towns got the attention of the people that lived there.

It brought the crowds out and kept attendance high.

The ‘sound truck‘ gained popularity throughout the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s as automobiles and  mechanized utility vehicles became the standard means of transportation, replacing the horse and wagon.

Sound trucks came in all shapes and sizes but the basic premise was that the vehicle, usually loaded with an amplifier and a battery of loudspeaker horns pointed in every direction and turned up full blast, drove slowly up and down the neighborhood streets of a town daily,  playing stirring (and sometimes scratchy)  Sousa marches off a record turntable or tape recorder while someone on a microphone blared out a continuous spiel extolling the many wonders to be found on the big shows midway. Today, because of  strict laws limiting the noise levels in most cities and towns, the sound truck has become extinct.

Below are some great examples of Sound Trucks.

alt="Sound Trucks Announced That The Carnival or Circus Were In Town"

These vehicles were painted up in bright colors and were guaranteed to be extremely hard to miss.

alt=" Sound Trucks Announced That The Carnival or Circus Were In Town"

The Innovative Way The Carnivals Advertised

The Ad Men For The Carnival Business

How The Ad Team Let Everyone Know The Carnival Was Coming To Town

alt="The Ad Men For The Carnival Business"

Advance Team Goes Ahead of The Carnival

In this photo from the early 1900″s, we see an advance team with their wooden buckets lined up getting ready to ‘post a date’. They are mixing the gooey paste from water carried under the rail car that will soon affix the ‘bills’, with long handled brushes, in a strategic visual location on a fence or building.

Although this slimy amalgam was made primarily from only four and water, When applied to the back of the bill and left to dry, this mixture would be almost as as hard and permanent as concrete. It was not uncommon to see forgotten paper, still stuck in tatters, to the side of an old barn years after the date had been played.

It was the job of the ‘advance team’ to go out at least two weeks ahead of the show and advertise the date. In the case of the railroad shows, the advance cars would be colorfully painted like parade floats with elaborate murals adorning the side of the coaches which were refitted baggage cars.

alt="The Ad Men For The Carnival Business"

Hod Men’s Work

The old carnival shows understood the value of advertising and hundreds of beautifully colored lithograph posters ranging in size from 15 feet high to small, 18 inch widow cards, were posted around a town to announce the arrival of the big show.

Stories abound about these ‘hod men’ as they were known, ignoring the “Post No Bills” signs and, in the dead of night and on the last day in town, completely papering over an entire side of a building. In the morning, the angry store or hotel owner would awaken to find a couple of 15 foot high colorful multi sheet advertisements with images of a ten foot roaring tiger permanently stuck to his wooden building with the hardened paste, guaranteeing it would remain until the weather eventually washed it off.

Contracts were issued for free passes to those merchants who would allow a building to be papered or a widow card posted in their front window advertising the shows arrival.

alt="The Ad Men For The Carnival Business"

Lithograph Contract


The shows sometimes played close to each other and competition was fierce in the best locations and at key road junctions.

Often the bill posters papered over the competitions paper or put their shows name and date over a pictorial piece or ripped it down completely.