Known for a more coarser form of entertainment such as a circus, Siamese twins and various human oddities such as “Zip the Pinhead” and “Man-monkey”, P.T. Barnum brought the most famous opera singer, Jenny Lind to New York on September 1, 1850.

It was a triumphant national tour that set astonishing box-office records and fanned the flames of a widespread opera craze in 1850s America.  Jenny Lind, known as “The Swedish Nightingale”, was a singer of uncommon talent and great renown.  Her arrival in New York City on September 1,  1850 was greeted with a mania.  Think of it like Beatlemania 1850’s style.

Jenny Lind tour of America, 1850–52

Jenny Lind tour of America, 1850–52

Jenny Lind’s birthday is not clearly known so she was either 29 or 39 years old in 1849, when she first came to the attention of P.T. Barnum. Barnum was touring Europe at the time with the act that effectively launched his eventual showbiz empire: the two-foot-eleven-inch Tom Thumb, whom Barnum molded into a singer/dancer/comedian after discovering him in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

P.T. Barnum and Charles Sherwood Stratton (Tom Thumb) c. 1850. Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

P.T. Barnum and Charles Sherwood Stratton (Tom Thumb) c. 1850. Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

While in England with Thumb, Barnum was told about Lind and proceeded to propose a North American tour to her without ever hearing her sing a note. Her once-in-a-lifetime voice, it seems, was of interest to Barnum only insofar as it helped explain the piece of information that most impressed him: that Lind had recently drawn sellout crowd after sellout crowd during a recent tour of Britain and Ireland. On the basis of her proven box-office pull, Barnum sent an offer to Lind that was unheard of for the time: a 150-date tour of the United States and Canada with a guaranteed payment of $1,000 per performance. After negotiating certain payments by Barnum to charities of her choosing, the philanthropy-minded Lind agree to the tour and disembarked Liverpool for the United States in August 1850.

From the moment of her arrival in New York, Lind was a sensation. By applying his trademark gifts in the area of promotion, Barnum had seen to it that this would be the case.

Barnum had successfully sold Jenny Lind's products even before she has arrived New York. With the power of the press, it spread out Jenny Lind's stories

Barnum had successfully sold Jenny Lind’s products even before she has arrived New York. With the power of the press, it spread out Jenny Lind’s stories

 

But it was Lind’s voice and her genuine connection with audiences that made the tour the smash success that it was—a fact even Barnum acknowledged when he renegotiated her contract upward following her first handful of performances. All told, Jenny Lind’s tour is believed to have netted Barnum close to a half-million dollars, an astonishing sum in 1850. But its most lasting legacy may have been the way in which it helped make opera a democratic sensation in America in the decades that followed.

Luckily to Barnum, Lind was a brilliant singer. Her first concert, at New York’s Castle Garden, played to a sellout crowd of 5,000, who had bought their tickets at auction for as much as $225 apiece (People & Events: Jenny Lind, 1820-1887).

Luckily to Barnum, Lind was a brilliant singer. Her first concert, at New York’s Castle Garden, played to a sellout crowd of 5,000, who had bought their tickets at auction for as much as $225 apiece (People & Events: Jenny Lind, 1820-1887).

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2 responses

  1. Birgit says:

    PT Barnum knew how to sell. He lifted his image as well having Jenny Lind perform. I didn’t realize he brought her to North America but he knew what he was doing. Now I am getting out my tape measure to see how tall Tom Thumb was. I knew about him but I have to see this visually.

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