From Our Special Collections: Jumbo

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Photographs of Jumbo the Elephant and a Letter from P.T. Barnum to Henry A. Ward, October 9, 1883

<Jumbo skin

Jumbo skeleton



The elephant Jumbo was not only the largest animal in captivity, but also the most famous. Captured in Africa in 1861, Jumbo spent his early years in Paris at the Jardin des Plantes and in London at the London Zoological Gardens. In 1882 the American showman P. T. Barnum purchased the elephant and, after a great outcry of protest from English Jumbo lovers, brought him to the United States. Here he continued to delight audiences as part of Barnum's “Greatest Show on Earth.” On September 15, 1885, Jumbo's life came to a tragic end when he was struck by a train and killed. By prior arrangement, Jumbo's body was shipped to Ward's Natural History Establishment in Rochester. Ward and his assistants mounted Jumbo's skeleton and stuffed his enormous skin. For the next two years these two Jumbos toured with Barnum's circus. 

Shown below is a letter Barnum wrote to Ward two years before Jumbo's demise: “I shall have my managers understand that if we lose Jumbo(which Heaven forbid!) you must be telegraphed to immediately, & hope you will lose no time in saving his skin & skeleton.”

letter from Barnum to Ward

In his Library Bulletin article about Jumbo, Barnum, and Ward, John Richmond Russell (former University Librarian) wrote:

It was originally estimated that it would require two months to complete the work, but it actually took six. A special building was built to house the project, and two of Ward's ablest assistants, Carl E. Akeley and William J. Critchley, devoted most of their time to it. Ward's diary shows that he himself gave a great deal of his time when he was in Rochester to the supervision of the work. He received many special requests while the work was in progress. One correspondent wanted to get some elephant fat, another wanted Jumbo's eyes, and still another his heart, which was advertised for $40. Casts of Jumbo's upper jaw and teeth were sent to the Army Medical Museum and to the British Museum. Since Jumbo's tusks were too badly damaged to be used, some slices were made as souvenirs. Ward sent one slice to Spencer F. Baird at the Smithsonian Institution, and another to Mrs. Barnum. The gift for Mrs. Barnum was sent to Barnum with a suggestion that the $1,200 to be paid Ward for the job of mounting Jumbo was not sufficient to cover the costs, but Ward's gift and letter didn't bring the result he desired.


N. Y. March 1st 1886Dear WardYours rec'd with the decorated slice from Jumbo's tusk for Mrs. Barnum, who will write you. I hope you will send me the other slice and I will send it to "The British Museum." I can do it so that the London reporters will publish it. If sent to Queen Victoria the fact will never be published - and ten to one her Majesty will be offended, because she was opposed to my having Jumbo. Your business directions about cars wagons etc. I hope you sent to my partners for I do nothing about such things. I shall send two of your monument placards to the British Museum with the slice.Truly yoursP. T. Barnum

P.S. Please send me the other slice plain - no inscription whatever & send me a letter describing what it is, I will send your letter with the slice to British Museum & tell them what we would like to have inscribed on one side - leaving the other side blank for them to use as they like. Glad you was so thoughtful. My wife is delighted.P.T.B.

P.S. I was very sorry to receive your statement regarding the pecuniary result of your preparing the two specimens.

There will be no use in my showing your letter to my partners. They will be sure to say as I do, that "this is a matter of business." Your offer of $1200 was submitted to my partners & accepted.Now I cannot go to them and say you miscalculated the expenses, for they would reply, "that is not our affair. If he had miscalculated the other way, so that he made hundreds of dollars more than he expected, would he have given it to us?" They & I would no doubt regret that you made a mistake, but it is no fault of ours, and you will surely gain thousands of dollars through the celebrity which the affair will give to you & your business. I am dear sir your friendP.T. Barnum

The complete article is available here

Additional resources:

  • The register of the Henry A. Ward Papers