Circus World is located at the National Landmark Site of the original Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters on Water Street. These buildings are the largest and oldest group of circus structures in the United States, belonging to the largest circus enterprise the world has ever known.
At Circus World (and online) learn about the countless artifacts of circus history preserved and showcased here at Circus World through exhibits, online collections, library preservation, as well as photographs and wagons!
The Ringling’s used Baraboo as home base from 1884-1918. Over those 34 years, the brothers dreamed, built, and exported amazing wonders to eager audiences across America.
Circus World offers acres of exhibits documenting the American Circus.
The original Ringling Winter Quarters is just the beginning!
A new exhibit called “Trunk’s Up” will explore 225 years of ponderous pachyderm performance.
Other exhibits showcase the work and personal lives of the Ringling Brothers, other Wisconsin-based circuses, famous animal trainers, circus wagons, street parades, circus trains, menageries, side show attractions, clowns, logistics, specialized equipment and circus wagon construction, movie props from The Greatest Show On Earth, spectacles, a colossal miniature circus, thrill acts, circus wagon restoration, and much more.
Circus World’s Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center is the world’s foremost research facility dedicated to the circus. The holdings document the history of the American circus from its inception in 1793 to the present day.
The massive collection includes rare photographs, posters, manuscripts and artifacts. With information on some 2,800 American circuses, and a reference file of over 300,000 names of circus performers and employees, it is a prime source of information for enthusiasts and scholars of the circus from around the world.
Did you know Circus World has one of the largest collections of circus posters in the world? This colossal compilation of promotional material includes over 9,000 individual posters and continues to grow. You don’t have to visit Baraboo to browse the collection. In fact, many of them are available to explore right now online!
Enter “poster” in the box marked “Collection” you will be able to review all available online records from our poster collection.
Throughout the later 1800s and early 1900s, the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows would return to their Baraboo winter quarters following their season on the road.
The function of the winter quarters was to repair and repaint equipment, create themes and features for the new show, design and fabricate props and 2,000 costumes, contract performers, plan the route, contract with railroads to move the show train, and design and fabricate poster art for advertising.
They also rested, rehearsed and cared for the animals which in 1916 consisted of: five hundred horses and ponies, 29 elephants, 15 camels and about 20 other hay eating animals, plus tigers, lions, monkeys, and birds like a flock of ostrich.
Of the 25 Ringling structures that once existed in Baraboo, 10 winter quarters buildings remain: all National Historic Landmark Structures.
Circus World’s pride and joy is the largest collection of authentic circus wagons on earth.
This colossal congress contains over 260 wagons and vehicles from large, medium, and small circuses as well as a few carnivals.
They were gathered from across the United States and England, some in good shape, some neglected, and still others were in shambles… but each one has a story to tell.
Beautifully restored by Circus World’s talented craftspeople, the parade wagons are rolling masterpieces of the woodcarver’s art, while the baggage wagons helped move all the equipment used by the show.
Guided tours of the wagon exhibits are offered daily during the summer performance season. Tours begin outside the Deppe Wagon Pavilion and the C. P. Fox Wagon Restoration Center.
“This is an important part of American History – the travelling circuses. For children, it is an eye-opening experience that they cannot get in a classroom. For adults, it is a look back at times before computer games and Smartphones.“