Esteemed thinker: P.T. Barnum

P.T. Barnum

There are very few things that everyone likes however if I had to make a guess, I would have to surmise that a bit of “civility and politeness” would be such a pair we all yearn for. For who does not enjoy receiving a simple “please and thank you,” which are delivered without monetary cost. And knowing that all persons like these bits of politeness added to a conversation one would think that they would be scattered about like ants at a picnic. Yet, to our dismay, civility is not the norm everywhere, but rather present in some places and vacant in others. Like climate, we find that some folks are generally pleasant, spreading their politeness about like a summer breeze, while in other regions we find the population lacking in their pleasantries like a late winter storm.

But let us look at civility not as a luxury but as something that can be freely expressed; and so if we give it away, let us hope that the recipient will forgo their miserly disposition and reciprocate with an equally pleasant bit of civility. It is curious to see that though it is free, it can reap benefits beyond its original façade.

PT Barmun portrait

Today’s post introduces the esteemed thinker: P.T. Barnum (1810-1891) a man whose life encompassed the entire nineteenth century, a man who employed and some say exploited the culture and technology of his era. Barnum was an author, showman, and visionary that often scandalized his contemporaries.

Born in Connecticut, Barnum was both a brilliant and shameless promoter often accused of fraud as well as believing there was no such thing as bad press. Barnum’s success will always be connected with the great American circus, although it is believed that his greatest success arrived when he presented European opera star Jenny Lind to the American public (1850). “The Swedish Nightingale” sang 95 concerts for Barnum.

1881, Barnum joined promotional forces with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson creating “Barnum & London Circus.” In 1885, Barnum and Bailey went their separate ways, but revamped their business relationship again in 1888. That year, the “Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth” first toured America.

And so, I bring to you the advice from a successful but often scandalous showman; from his book, The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules for Making Money here is a snippet from “Be Polite and Kind to your Customers,” Mr. Barnum! (For the curious… P.T. stands for Phineas Taylor)

And though we may not agree with his methods, we all must agree that he obtained success.

“Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him. “Like begets like.” The man who gives the greatest amount of goods of a corresponding quality for the least sum (still reserving for himself a profit) will generally succeed best in the long run. This brings us to the golden rule, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them” and they will do better by you than if you always treated them as if you wanted to get the most you could out of them for the least return. Men who drive sharp bargains with their customers, acting as if they never expected to see them again, will not be mistaken. They will never see them again as customers. People don’t like to pay and get kicked also…”

Second image: Charles D. Fredricks & Co., photographer, between 1860 and 1864, 1 photographic print on carte de visite mount: albumen; 10.1 x 6.0

2 thoughts on “Esteemed thinker: P.T. Barnum

  1. I went to see Michael Crawford in ‘Barnum’ the Musical which opened in London in 1981, I think I have the year right. A real show-stopping performance.

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