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Sells Bros. Circus

Sells Bros. Circus


The Sells Brothers Circus is an American circus that toured 1872 to 1895. The circus was founded by Peter, Ephraim, Allen and Lewis Sells, the grandsons on a German immigrant.

In 1862 brothers Ephraim, Allen and Lewis Sells took out a small circus which soon failed.

The brothers were in the auction business, they would follow circuses to take advantages of the large crowds to sell their merchandise.

While following circuses the Sells became fascinated with "Cannonball George Richards", who was one of the first "Human Cannonball" acts.

The brothers got together $ 6,000 and purchased animals and show equipment and joined by younger brother Peter, started the "Sells Brothers Circus", which of course featured Cannonball George Richards the human cannonball. The circus opened in Columbus, Ohio in the spring of 1872.

Allen Sells managed the show, Lewis was his assistant manager, Ephraim was the treasurer and Peter the general agent. The circus was small and toured by horses and wagons.

The circus had a very successful first season and the Sells decided to pool their life savings of $ 35,000 and enlarge the show. The fledgling circus grew steadily and in 1873 the Sells brothers purchased their first elephant.

In 1878 the circus switched from wagons to railroad cars to transport their equipment and in the 1880s, the Sells Brothers Circus became one of the largest and most successful circuses in the country.

In 1891 the Sells Brothers Circus was loaded aboard a ship in San Francisco, and set sail for Australia. The Australian tour turn out to be disastrous however. While in Australia, a infectious disease (Glanders), broke out among the animals and spread rapidly. The animals that didn't die were quarantined by the Australian government, causing the Sells to loose their entire menagerie. The Sells brothers purchased new animals once they returned to the United States in 1892.

When the Sells brothers returned to the U. S., they faced more completion from new circuses which had opened in the country. Ticket sales decline and the show began facing financial difficulties. James A, Bailey owner of the "Barnum & Bailey Circus", stepped in and offered financial assistance in return for a third interest of the circus.

In 1898 Ephraim the the eldest Sells brother died. After Ephraim's death W. W. Cole also became a partner of the show.

In 1904 both Peter and Allen Sells died, leaving the only remaining brother Lewis. After the death of his brothers Lewis had lost interest in the show, he then sold all interest of the Sells family to Bailey. In 1906 Bailey died and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers.

In 2010 a new fountain was dedicated at Goodale Park in Columbus, Ohio. The fountain is adorned by two elephants spraying water atop a wedding cake shaped base. Artist Malcolm Cochran's concept was inspired by the fact that the Sells Brothers Circus had once wintered in the city.

Sells Bros. Circus
Elephants atop Goodale Park fountain
Elephant fountain in
Goodale Park Columbus, OH.
Click to enlarge
Sells Bros. Circus
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