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Thumb, Tom, 1838 - 1883



  • Existence: 1838-01-04 - 1883-07-15


Tom Thumb was born Charles Sherwood Stratton on 4th January 1838, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sherwood Edward Stratton, a carpenter, and his wife, Cynthia.

In 1842, P. T. Barnum discovered Charles, who measured 25 inches and weighed 15 pounds, only six pounds more than his birth weight. Barnum toured the child as an 11-year-old European marvel and taught him to sing, dance, mime and act and renamed him Tom Thumb after the character from European fairytales.

Barnum arrived in Liverpool on 5th February 1844 with Tom Thumb, who was already a very successful act in the USA. Tom was smuggled ashore in his mother's arms as Barnum wanted to conceal his new marvel from the eyes of the non-paying public.

Upon his arrival in England the British showmen were amazed that Barnum was hoping to attract so much business for simply exhibiting a dwarf. However, Barnum in the shape of Tom Thumb, created a novelty act which would become one of the greatest attractions of the Victorian Era.

Early appearances in London were not as successful as Barnum hoped so he arranged to exhibit Tom at perhaps the most famous sideshow venue in London in the nineteenth century, the Egyptian Hall. Part natural history collection, sideshow and magic venue it would be the scene for many of the greatest sideshows and magic acts of the Victorian period.

Barnum opened the show in the middle of March after which he received an invitation to meet the Queen on the 23rd. Determined to make the most of this invitation Barnum placed a notice on the door of the hall stating "Closed this evening, General Tom Thumb being at Buckingham Palace by command of her Majesty."

Charles Stratton was presented to Queen Victoria and her family on three occasions that summer and Barnum received a handsome fee for his services, but that was only a small part of the benefits of this acquaintance. Such was the force of the Court example that it was now deemed unfashionable, almost disloyal, not to see Tom Thumb. Carriages of the nobility, fifty or sixty at a time, were to be seen at Barnum's door in Piccadilly. The Egyptian Hall was crowded at every exhibition and the net profits were on the average more than $500 per day from 20th March to 20th July.

Portraits of the tiny General were for sale everywhere and were eagerly purchased by thousands. Musical compositions were dedicated to him, and songs were sung in his honour.

The discovery or creation of Tom Thumb surpassed all of Barnum’s previous business achievements. Such was the interest in Tom Thumb that his marriage to Lavinia Warren in 1863 dominated New York Society and pushed the Civil War off the front page, with thousands lining the streets to see the bride arrive for the ceremony in a specially built miniature wedding carriage. Charles and Lavinia Stratton toured the world earning contracts of $30,000 a year with Barnum stating in his autobiography that the American Museum alone sold £300 worth of photographic souvenirs a day of the happy couple.

Dwarf and midget exhibitors such as Major Mite, Harold Pyott the English Tom Thumb and Anita the Living Doll, followed in the example of Charles Stratton and became highly successful sideshow novelties. The effect of Barnum on the English showmen and the public was immense and freak exhibits were found in a range of exhibitions including shop fronts, penny gaffs, music halls and travelling fairs.

Tom Thumb died of a stroke on 15 July 1883 at 45 years of age.

Found in 8 Collections and/or Records:

Egyptian Hall Handbills, c1821 - 1883

 Sub-Series — Box John Barmwell Taylor Box 1: Series 178T1
Reference code: 178T1.1-20
Scope and Contents

Handbills for travelling shows, exhibitions and performances at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London.

Dates: c1821 - 1883

Farewell Levees of Gen Tom Thumb Handbill, 1845

 Item — Box John Barmwell Taylor Box 1: Series 178T1
Reference code: 178T1.9
Scope and Contents

Tom Thumb, Previous to his final departure for America at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. Previous to his final departure for America. The General is apparently four times the length of this handbill. Illustration. Printed by T. Brettell, Rupert Street, Haymarket.

Dates: 1845

Gen Tom Thumb and his Beautiful Little Wife Handbill, 1865

 Item — Box John Barmwell Taylor Box 1: Series 178T1
Reference code: 178T1.41
Scope and Contents

General Tom Thumb, Commodore Nutt, and Minnie Warren at St James Hall, Piccadilly. Midget variety act, encompassing all of Gen Tom Thumb's family, wife daughters etc. Printed by Brickhill and Bateman, Steam Publishing Works, Newington Butts, S.

Dates: 1865

General Tom Thumb Handbill, March 1844

 Item — Box John Barmwell Taylor Box 1: Series 178T1
Reference code: 178T1.5
Scope and Contents

General Tom Thumb, and Native American performer Joc-O-Sot, at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. The Man in Miniature, In Catlin's Indian Collection, Adelaide Gallery-E.H.The General is 13 years old, 25' high and weighs only 15 pounds. Support act-Joc-o-Sot, Sauk Indian tribe chief, in unique tribal costume. Illustrated.

Dates: March 1844

Handbills, c1786 - 1968

 Series — Box John Barmwell Taylor Box 1: Series 178T1
Reference code: 178T1
Scope and Contents

Handbills for travelling shows, fairs, exhibitions and performances in London.

Dates: c1786 - 1968

John Bramwell Taylor Collection

Reference code: NFA0086
Scope and Contents The collection consists of handbills, programmes and small flyers for shows, fairs, expositions and circus performances in the nineteenth century. The circus material in the Bramwell Taylor Collection was sponsored by the Circus Friends Association of Great Britain and consists of material relating to 19th century touring circuses, individual acts and purpose built hippodromes such as Hengler’s Circus and Astley’s Amphitheatre. Additionally this collection also contains a small amount of...
Dates: c1786 - 2003

Piccadilly, Piccadilly Hall and Haymarket Handbills, c1820 - 1885

 Sub-Series — Box John Barmwell Taylor Box 1: Series 178T1
Reference code: 178T1.21-43
Scope and Contents

Handbills for travelling shows, exhibitions and performances at Piccadilly, Piccadilly Hall and Haymarket.

Dates: c1820 - 1885

Showmen Articles Newspaper Cuttings, 1904 - 1973

 Sub-Series — Box Showmen's Guild Box 18: Series 178G65
Reference code: 178G65.2
Scope and Contents

Articles from The Engineers, Sawdust, The World's Fair, The Sun, Pictorial Quarterly, The Sphere, The Guardian and other newspapers and journals containing articles related to the fairground Showmen community and fairground rides, an article by David Braithwaite, press releases relating to bye-laws and cuttings related to dwarf performers including Tom Thumb.

Dates: 1904 - 1973