Jumbo the Elephant

Jumbo the Elephant

A carte-de-visite showing Jumbo the Elephant giving rides on his back to visitors at London Zoo.

Jumbo the African elephant and his female companion Alice were a popular attraction at London Zoological Gardens for eighteen years. In 1882, much to the anger of the British public, Jumbo was sold to American showman P.T. Barnum for $10,000. His sale and subsequent departure caused an outpouring of sentiment and collective grief

Jumbo arrived in America on 9 Apirl 1882 aboard the steamship Assyrian Monarch and was hauled through the streets of New York with much fanfare. Billed as the ‘Largest Living Quadruped on Earth,’ Jumbo became the greatest attraction of Barnum’s entire career, presented alongside General Tom Thumb to emphasize his great size. His name was attached to all sorts of products, and over a century later we still use his name to describe anything particularly large.

Three years after his arrival in America, Jumbo was killed in a collision with an oncoming freight train in Ontario, Canada, on 15 September 1885. Barnum circulated the story that Jumbo’s final act was to throw Tom Thumb clear with his trunk, but in fact, Jumbo was struck head-on and died instantly.

Undeterred, Barnum promptly bought Alice from London Zoo, and exhibited her as ‘Jumbo’s widow’ beside the skeleton and stuffed hide of her former mate – no doubt a somewhat disconcerting reunion for Alice.

The stuffed Jumbo was eventually given to the Barnum Museum at Tufts University, where he could be seen in the main hall until he was destroyed by a fire in 1975. His skeleton is still owned by the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History.

Photographer unidentified.


Code: 127461
© Paul Frecker 2022