P.T. Barnum’s Struggles and Triumphs

November 7, 2015


Even though it may be common knowledge to some, I had not known that P.T. Barnum was the owner and manager of a museum. I’d only thought of him in relation to travelling circuses. Struggles and Triumphs: or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P.T. Barnum, by the great showman himself, describes how he went from being involved with travelling circuses to owning and running a museum (funny and entertaining, I thought) as well as the tribulations of managing the museum once he’d acquired it (even funnier).

To describe the details of how he came to own the museum might potentially spoil the story for the reader, but I’ll give a couple of examples of the on the job training which he experienced himself whilst endeavouring to turn his museum into a success via trial and error, as well as some of the wisdom or street nous or business acumen or psychological tricks which he brought to the endeavour himself.

Above the entrance to his museum he situated a small band of musicians. They weren’t very good, but that meant they were relatively cheap, the idea being to make noise and attract attention. If, however, the band were to be too good, then people might just stand on the side of the street and listen to the music for free rather than pay the small price of admission and actually enter the museum as intended. As the band was not very good, a lot of people entered the museum, after being reeled in by the music to find out what it was all about, just to get away from the noise.

Another strategy he employed in order to drum up business was to hire a man to take a plain house brick and simply walk a circular route around town, passing several busy intersections, and intermittently stop, put down the brick and just stand there next to the brick for a few moments before picking up the brick again and continuing on his route. It was critical that he not respond to anybody asking him what he was up to or what the deal was in regards to the brick he carried. He also had no sign mentioning the museum or anything else. At the end of his silent route, he would enter the museum, taking a simple tour of all the exhibits, before once again going out and walking his route through town and performing his little interaction with the brick here and there in one continuous cyclic pantomime. Many people followed him, since he would not reply to basic inquiries, and even paid the small price of admission to the museum just in order to follow him inside and figure out what this curious fellow was up to.

His intention was to keep the price of admission low, but have high turnover by getting as many people in and out of the museum as possible in a constant stream of customers. The customers, however, had other ideas. They brought box lunches and sought to make a day of it, to the point that he could not sell more tickets to let more people in, even though at that point he had more people lining up just to get into his museum, because the interior of his museum was simply full to the brim with customers already, who intended to get their money’s worth by staying most of the day. He countered this by opening a backdoor of the museum and putting up a sign stating “TO THE EGRESS,” pointing to that rear exit. The malingering crowd of customers inside the museum who weren’t playing his bums-through-the-turnstiles game properly, in his opinion, thought the sign indicated another newly opened exotic exhibit and left the museum via that exit to check it out, allowing the queues out the front to once again flow, as well as the money from further ticket sales.

There’s little doubt that Barnum had a head for business and showmanship, as the museum was a huge success. But it was very interesting, funny and entertaining to read the details of how that success was created and how inevitable problems were overcome.

I haven’t even mentioned the adventures of tiny Tom Thumb, the “Little General”, whom Barnum took on tour through Europe. The interactions of the pint-sized charmer with the royalty of Britain and France, for example, were a delight to read in and of themselves.

This post was contributed by FallenArchangel, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 6)

October 26, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.

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26000 Comic Insects, by F.A.S. Reid (1872), was posted October 1, 2013, as the 26,000th book. This is a collection of amusing poems about insects and features delightful illustrations by Berry F. Berry. The Hot off the Press blog post for this milestone, which coincided with DP’s 13th anniversary, can be found here.

27000 Number 27,000 was the 13-volume Storia della decadenza e rovina dell’impero romano (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), an Italian translation of the classic work by British historian Edward Gibbon, posted March 28, 2014. It was originally published in London in separate volumes between 1776 and 1789. Italian author Davide Bertolotti translated it to Italian, and his version was published in Milan between 1820 and 1824. See the Hot off the Press blog post here.

28000 For a change of pace, The Mystery of Choice, by Robert W. Chambers (1897), was posted as the 28,000th selection on August 16, 2014. This book is a collection of short, related stories with topics ranging from a murder mystery, to the ghost of a dark priest, to the search for dinosaurs — in short, something for everyone. The Hot off the Press blog post about it is here.

29000 Histoire de France (History of France), by Jules Michelet (1867), was posted on January 14, 2015, making it the 29,000th contribution from DP to Project Gutenberg. This 19-volume masterpiece took Michelet 30 years to complete, and it took DP over nine years to transform the complete set into a high-quality set of e-books — a tremendous accomplishment all around. Here is the Hot off the Press blog post celebrating this milestone.

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30000 As you may expect, the 30,000th title was represented not by a single book, but by 30, posted on July 7, 2015. They represent the vast scope of DP volunteers’ work, with books on science, technology, medicine, poetry, archaeology, folklore, literature, drama, history, autobiography, political science, and fiction, both general and juvenile. They include works in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Each of the thirty titles represents countless hours of work by DP’s many volunteers, who performed myriad tasks such as preparing the page scans, setting up the projects, carefully proofing and formatting the texts page-by-page to ensure their high quality, post-processing, smooth-reading, and verifying them — not to mention those who make all that work possible by maintaining and improving DP’s online systems, mentoring, and performing a host of other essential tasks. This Hot off the Press blog post gives the list of books, with links, for this milestone.

PG’s 50,000th title DP had the honor of contributing Project Gutenberg’s 50,000th title just last month, on September 17, 2015. This was, appropriately, John Gutenberg, First Master Printer, His Acts, and most remarkable Discourses, and his Death, by Franz von Dingelstedt. The Hot off the Press blog post celebrating this achievement is here. As part of DP’s 15th Anniversary celebration, a DP volunteer recorded an audiobook of this title for Librivox.

Thanks and congratulations to the entire Distributed Proofreaders community, whose dedication to “preserving history one page at a time” has made this 15th Anniversary celebration possible.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 5)

October 21, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the fifth in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.

21000 The 21,000th contribution, on August 22, 2011, was The Pros and Cons of Vivisection, by Charles Richet (1908). Vivisection (experimental surgery on living beings) has long been a controversial practice. The author, a distinguished French physiologist, tries to “set forth, as impartially as possible, the reasons which militate for and against vivisection. It is, however, a physiologist who is speaking, therefore no one will be surprised that he should defend a practice which is at the basis of the science he teaches.”

22000 We go to January 2, 2012 — and 1901 — for the 22,000th offering, The Nibelungenlied, the great medieval German epic poem, translated into English by William Nanson Lettsom. It tells the tale of the hero Siegfried, who slays a dragon, gains a treasure, fights a number of battles, and wins a fair lady — thereby setting into motion a tangled and tragic plot that is famously the basis for Richard Wagner’s great opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.

Leaving the Ship

Leaving the Ship, from Crusoe’s Island

23000 June 5, 2012, gave us Crusoe’s Island: A Ramble in the Footsteps of Alexander Selkirk, by John Ross Browne, the 23,000th contribution. Published in 1864, this is an account of the Irish-born American author’s experiences in the Juan Fernández Islands, his stint as a government commissioner in California, and his life as an agent in the Nevada silver mines. The author’s sketches are included.

24000 French literature provided the 24,000th book, on October 31, 2012, Cours familier de littérature (Familiar Literature Courses, vol. 14, 1862), by M.A. de Lamartine. Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, Chevalier de Pratz, was a French writer, poet, and politician who was instrumental in the foundation of the French Second Republic. He ended his life in poverty, publishing monthly installments of the Cours familier de littérature to support himself. You can find the celebratory blog post for this milestone here.

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25000 DP’s 25,000th book was, appropriately for the “silver milestone,” The Art and Practice of Silver Printing, by pioneering photographers H.P. Robinson and Captain Abney (1881), which was posted April 10, 2013. The authors noted, “The one defect of silver printing is the possibility of its results fading; but surely it is better to be beautiful, if fading, than permanent and ugly. It is better to be charmed with a beautiful thing for a few years, than be bored by an ugly one for ever.” You can read more about this book on Hot off the Press here.

Next: The celebration continues with milestones 26000 to 30000.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 4)

October 16, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the fourth in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.

ABC Cover

16000 October 1, 2009, brought to Project Gutenberg ABC: Petits Contes (ABC: Short Stories), by Jules Lemaître (1919, French). This is a beautifully illustrated children’s book. Even if you can’t recognize a single French word, this book is worth downloading for the striking color illustrations by “Job” (Jacques Onfroy de Bréville).

17000 DP saw its next milestone book, the 17,000th, on March 4, 2010: The Position of Woman in Primitive Society, by British author and headmistress C. Gasquoine Hartley (1914). From the introductory chapter: “This little book is an attempt to establish the position of the mother in the family. It sets out to investigate those early states of society, when, through the widespread prevalence of descent through the mother, the survival of the family clan and, in some cases, the property rights were dependent on women and not on men.”

18000 The 18,000th book, made available June 15, 2010, is Area Handbook for Romania, by Eugene K. Keefe et al. (1972), a U.S. Government publication. The Foreword describes it as “one of a series of handbooks prepared by Foreign Area Studies (FAS) of The American University, designed to be useful to military and other personnel who need a convenient compilation of basic facts about the social, economic, political, and military institutions and practices of various countries. The emphasis is on objective description of the nation’s present society and the kinds of possible or probable changes that might be expected in the future.”

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10th Anniversary On October 1, 2010, DP kicked off a 10-day celebration of its 10th anniversary. This blog was inaugurated on that date with A Decade of Dedication, and continued each day until October 10 celebrating DP-produced books and DP volunteer stories: The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, An Introduction to Astronomy, “Turn around when possible,” Kipling’s Just So Stories, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration, the Encyclopedia of Needlework, In Pursuit of Poetry, Come out of the Kitchen, and, finally, a slice of DP history from its former General Manager, Garage Musings.

19000 The 19,000th title was a Dutch offering, Vanden Vos Reinaerde, Uitgegeven en Toegelicht, edited by W.J.A. Jonckbloet (1856), posted November 9, 2010. This is a critical edition of the medieval fables about the clever Reynard the Fox, which were satirical commentaries on human society disguised as animal tales.

20000 Then, on April 7, 2011, DP celebrated its 20,000th title with multiple books in multiple languages: English; Italian, including Neapolitan and Sicilian dialects; German, including Middle High German; Latin, including Latino sine flexione; Dutch; French; and Esperanto. You can find the full list, with links, in this celebratory blog post.

Next: The celebration continues with milestones 21000 to 25000.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 3)

October 11, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the third in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.


Sigmund Freud

11000 The Northern Nut Growers Association Thirty-fourth Annual Report (1943) was the 11,000th title that Distributed Proofreaders posted to Project Gutenberg, on September 12, 2007. This was part of what we at DP call an “uberproject” — a large-scale multi-volume project, in this case a series of annual reports of the non-profit Northern Nut Growers Association from 1911 to 1963.

12000 DP’s 12,000th title — one of three milestones reached in 2008 — was Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life), by Sigmund Freud (1904, German), posted on January 26, 2008. This classic work by the father of psychoanalysis is a study of the so-called “Freudian slip” — a mistake that theoretically has a deeper psychological meaning.

13000 The 13,000th title, posted on June 24, 2008, was A World of Girls (1891), by the Irish author L.T. Meade. Meade was a prolific writer of moral tales, romances, and adventure stories, as well as scientific articles. A World of Girls was her first school story, and an early example of the genre.

14000 On December 1, 2008, DP posted its 14,000th title, The Art of Stage Dancing, by Ned Wayburn (1925). Wayburn was a successful Broadway dance “director” (he didn’t like the term “choreographer”) of the early 20th Century. This book shares his method of teaching different styles of dancing and his experiences. You can find a “Hot off the Press” review of it here.

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15000 The 15,000th title, halfway to our present milestone, was Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (vol. I, 1665-1666), edited by Henry Oldenburg. It was posted on May 12, 2009. The subtitle says it all: “Giving Some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies, and Labours of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World.” This is the first issue of the journal of The Royal Society, the oldest scientific society still in existence. Philosophical Transactions is still being published today, and is celebrating its 350th anniversary this year.

Next: The celebration continues with milestones 16000 to 20000.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 2)

October 6, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

This is the second in a series of posts celebrating Distributed Proofreaders’ 15th Anniversary.

6000 For its 6,000th title, DP submitted the two volumes of The Journal of Sir Walter Scott. This diary of the famed Scottish novelist runs from 1825 to 1832. Two days after he started the diary, Scott expressed concerns about the financial stability of his publisher, in which he was a significant investor. The following year, the publisher failed, leaving Scott with some £130,000 of debt (the equivalent of about £9.5 million today). Scott then spent the next seven years — the rest of his life — churning out more novels in his bestselling Waverley series, as well as other writings, to pay off this massive debt. You can find a blog review of it here.

7000 On June 23, 2005, DP contributed three books, each in a different language, to celebrate its 7,000th title and the language diversity of its work:


W.E.B. Du Bois

8000 February 8, 2006, saw the 8,000th title from DP, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, by W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois was a leading African-American scholar and activist. This, his first book, published in 1896, was a revised version of his 1895 doctoral dissertation at Harvard University, where he was the first African-American student to earn a Ph.D. degree. Du Bois helped found the NAACP in 1909. He published over one hundred articles and essays, and authored twenty-one books, including two novels.

9000 On September 4, 2006, DP again offered multiple books for a milestone, with “a trinity of diversity” to celebrate its 9,000th title. This was represented by:

  • Kelly Miller’s History of the World War for Human Rights, by Kelly Miller. This 1919 treatise by a noted African-American mathematician and author “sets forth the black man’s part in the world’s war with the logical sequence of facts and the brilliant power of statement for which the author is famous,” according to the publisher’s introduction. It contains numerous historic photographs.
  • Poems, by Christina G. Rossetti. British poet Christina Rossetti, sister of the equally famous Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, wrote children’s, devotional, and romantic poems. She is best known for “Goblin Market,” “Remember,” and the lyrics to the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” all of which appear in this 1906 collection.
  • Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting, illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. This 1882 picture book of two nursery rhymes, illustrated by the famed British artist, is a lovely example of Caldecott’s work. The prestigious Caldecott Medal, awarded to the most distinguished American picture book for children, was named after him.

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10000 For the 10,000th title milestone on March 9, 2007, DP offered a collection of fifteen books:

Next: The celebration continues with milestones 11,000 to 15,000.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part 1)

September 30, 2015
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Semper ad Meliora (Always towards better things)

Fifteen years ago, on October 1, 2000, Distributed Proofreaders volunteers began “preserving history one page at a time” by preparing public-domain e-books for Project Gutenberg. Since then, DP has contributed over 30,000 unique titles. In honor of DP’s 15th Anniversary (and the 5th Anniversary of both DP Italy and Hot off the Press), here is the first of a series of posts recognizing DP’s first contribution to Project Gutenberg, and every 1,000th offering thereafter.

1 The first book that DP posted to Project Gutenberg was an English translation of The Iliad of Homer. This is believed to have occurred November 22, 2000 (record-keeping at both DP and PG was not as meticulous back then). The Iliad is a classic Greek poem set during the last few weeks of the ten-year Trojan War between the ancient city of Troy and a group of Greek states. The poem relates a fateful quarrel between the Greek commander-in-chief, Agamemnon, and one of his captains, Achilles. The putative author, Homer, is thought to have been born more than 100 years after the events in the poem.

1000 DP believes that its 1,000th book was Tales of St. Austin’s, by the great British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. This was posted to Project Gutenberg on February 19, 2003. It is a collection of amusing “school stories” plus a few essays, published in 1903, and was one of Wodehouse’s first published books. Wodehouse was one of the most widely read writer of humorous novels in the 20th century. He left a career in banking to become a successful author, lyricist and playwright.

2000 On September 3, 2003, just short of seven months later, Project Gutenberg posted the 2,000th book from DP. This was The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: The First (‘Bad’) Quarto. Published in 1603, this edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was lost until discovered in 1823. It was first believed to be an earlier version of the play, then believed to be a pirated copy, possibly created by an actor who had played a minor part in the play and had reconstructed it from memory.

Anatomy of Melancholy

3000 Just three and a half months later, on January 14, 2004, DP posted the 3,000th book: Robert Burton‘s masterful study of depression, The Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621. The Project Gutenberg version is based on a 19th Century edition, in which the introduction notes, “The work now restored to public notice has had an extraordinary fate. At the time of its original publication it obtained a great celebrity, which continued more than half a century. During that period few books were more read, or more deservedly applauded. It was the delight of the learned, the solace of the indolent, and the refuge of the uninformed.” The writer of that introduction could not have predicted that the book’s “extraordinary fate” would include being made available to all in cyberspace.

4000 On April 6, 2004, less than three months later, DP posted its 4,000th book. Aventures du Capitaine Hatteras (Adventures of Captain Hatteras), by Jules Verne (1864, French), demonstrates that DP has a long tradition of producing books in languages other than English. Verne’s adventure novel contains two parts: “Les Anglais au pôle Nord” (“The English at the North Pole”) and “Le Désert de glace” (“The Desert of Ice”). After a mutiny destroys their ship, Captain Hatteras and what is left of his crew spend the winter on an ice island, build a boat from a shipwreck, and travel to a volcano situated right on the Pole.

5000 On August 24, 2004, a little over four months later, the third milestone book in a calendar year and fourth in a rolling year was posted. This was A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John William Cousin, and published in 1910 by Everyman’s Library. There’s a good reason DP chose this book as its 5,000th contribution, as Everyman’s Library shares DP’s core philosophy. In 1906, the founder of Everyman’s Library, J.M. Dent, resolved to create a library of 1,000 carefully selected books from around the world in the hope of making them as easily accessible as possible. In those days, books were expensive, and Everyman’s Library was among the first to publish affordable editions of classic works. Like Project Gutenberg, it paved the way to a new approach to making books widely accessible. It is fitting to celebrate this milestone with the quotation from Milton’s Areopagitica that Dent had printed on the very first volume of Everyman’s Library: “A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured upon purpose to a life beyond life.”

Next: The celebration continues with milestones 6,000 to 10,000.

These 15th Anniversary posts were contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.



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