The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Waino and Plutano

Waino and Plutano

A carte-de-visite portrait of Waino and Plutano, the original ‘Wild Men of Borneo’.

Waino and Plutano were actually Hiram and Barney Davis, two mentally disabled brothers from a Connecticut farm born in 1825 and 1827 respectively. They were each 40 inches tall and weighed about 45 pounds, yet could perform feats of great strength such as lifting heavy weights and wrestling with audience members on stage. Discovered and subsequently promoted by a traveling showman in 1850, Hiram and Barney were given new names, Waino and Plutano, and a sensational back story - they were said to be from the island of Borneo, where they were eventually captured after a great struggle with armed sailors.

In 1880 Waino and Plutano became involved with P. T. Barnum and his traveling exhibitions. With Barnum's fabled promotional skill, the careers of the Wild Men of Borneo took off and over the course of the next 25 years, the pair earned approximately $200,000, then an enormous sum. Their exhibitions primarily consisted of performing acts of great strength, such as lifting adult audience members and wrestling with both audience members and each other. They were said to be able to lift up to 300 lbs each.

Hiram died in 1905 and Barney died seven years later in 1912. The two are buried together in Mount Vernon, Ohio, under a gravestone marked ‘Little Men.’

Photographed by Eisenmann of New York.


Code: 124480
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© Paul Frecker 2019