The population of the United States in 1840 was about 17 million, a small number to Phineas Taylor Barnum, the greatest impresario who ever lived. Between 1840 and 1880, he sold nearly 60 million tickets to his exhibits, museums and traveling circus. Even with television, satellites, the internet and every conceivable electronic device known to humanity, no one has yet come close to what Barnum accomplished.
Barnum was born in Bethel, Conn., on July 5, 1810. His father was a failure as a tailor, a farmer, a storekeeper and a country tavern keeper. Barnum's early years were typical for a farmer's son -- hard physical chores from dawn to dusk. Farming gave Barnum an aversion to manual labor, which some regarded as laziness. He was not lazy, though he later claimed he “was always busy at head-work to evade the sentence of gaining bread by the seat of the brow.”
In 1825, Barnum's father died, leaving a wife, five children and an insolvent estate. Creditors seized everything. Barnum began life at 15 not only "penniless but barefooted." To support his family, Barnum got a job as a store clerk. He was hardworking and clever. He sold nearly useless tin and glass bottles by creating a lottery and giving some of the merchandise away as prizes, deftly turning the tin and glass into cash. It was so successful Barnum spent the next few years engaged exclusively in the lottery business in Danbury, Norwalk, Stamford and Middletown.