Meet the themed exhibition "Circus Parade!" characters

One of the characters of the recently opened exhibition "Circus Parade!” — Automaton presented in the museum “Collection” exposition — "Jumbo Elephant". It is in the shape of a papier-mache elephant figure pasted over with the skin of a goat. The head of the elephant is with large movable ears and trunk, ivory tusks and dark grey glass eyes. The jhul on the back and the pakhar on the elephant's head are from lilac color velvet with the rim from metallic wool element with bells. The spring-operated control mechanism is mounted inside the elephant's torso. When the mechanism is activated, the elephant raises and lowers his trunk, walks by alternately moving his legs and waves his ears. The automaton “Jumbo Elephant” was created by Jean Roullet in 1885.

The world most famous elephant, Jumbo, born on the border of modern-day Eritrea and Sudan in the end of 1860, pretypified his automaton. Being one year old, Jumbo was caught and soon sold to the Jardin des plantses de Paris, where there was a small Menagerie. The elephant did not live long there — in 1865, he was sold to London and it turned out that the move saved his life. During the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871), the besieged Parisians ate all the inhabitants of the Menagerie, including the two other famous elephants, Castor and Pollux. In London, Jumbo finally got his famous name (in Swahili, 'jumbo' means 'hello') and became a world star.

American and European newspapers followed his life closely. This was partly due to Queen Victoria, who often visited the London Zoo and feasted Jumbo with buns. That all changed in 1880, when Jumbo began to show the aggressive, rabid attacks that elephants sometimes have when they are growing up. In early 1881, the Zoological Society of London even discussed killing Jumbo, who had become a danger to visitors. However, things have turned out differently. In 1882, American showman Phineas Taylor Barnum, owner of the legendary “The Greatest Show on Earth” bought Jumbo, and the elephant travelled to the USA with his mahout, Matthew Scott. Buying and transporting Jumbo costed Barnum a whopping $30,000 at the time, but it was well worth it: he made an astronomical $1.7 million on the elephant during the first year.

Barnum took Jumbo all over the North America for over two years. On 15 September 1885, while on such a tour, Jumbo was killed at St Thomas' Station in Canada. According to the police report, a passing train hit the elephant that was standing on the railway tracks. According to evidence, Matthew Scott spent the night by Jumbo's body and "cried like a baby". Barnum, however, continued to make money of Jumbo even after his death, displaying the skeleton and effigy across America. As some newspapers cynically joked, he "got two Jumbos for the price of one".

A story about the automaton "Jumbo Elephant" is posted in the section “Museum Stories”.

During Barnum and Bailey's farewell tour of the circus in Des Moines, Iowa, Barnum leased land from the local businessperson Mr. Redhead to house the circus, and guested in his luxurious country estate during his stay in town. In the mid-1880s, before he left, Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891) presented Redhead (Wesley Redhead), a toy mechanical elephant that was very similar to the famous circus elephant Jumbo.

The mechanical elephant 'Jumbo' entered the museum Collection repository directly from the family of Mr. Wesley Redhead.

By the end of the 19th century, the phenomenon of Jumbo had permeated both in culture and in language. Derived from his name, the adjective “jumbo” that means "huge", entered all the dictionaries of the English language. In 1941, Walt Disney released a cartoon “Dumbo”, whose principle character, a flying elephant, was named Jumbo Jr. He was nicknamed Dumbo (from English dumb, meaning "stupid") in the circus by detractors. A remake of the Disney cartoon, directed by Tim Burton, was released in 2019.