Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, traveling amusements such as circuses, minstrel shows and Wild West shows were the most popular forms of entertainment in the United States. This study argues that advancements in transportation and technology inspired managers of traveling amusement companies to create new business models that transformed popular entertainment from informal, local productions into modern commercial spectacles. These amusement companies were capitalist enterprises, significant not just in the cultural arena but also in the growth of American business. These amusement companies traveled nationwide on the newly expanded railroad system, sporting elaborate sets and props and larger numbers of employees than ever before. Traveling amusements linked together audiences in disparate areas of the country, creating the first semblance of a shared, national popular culture based not on written text but on performance. By the turn of the century, a small number of troupes dominated the industry as the smaller, regional troupes could no longer compete. Show business impresarios established business patterns that influenced later developments in the entertainment industry, including trends toward standardization, reliance on middle managers, merger and consolidation, and use of modern labor and advertising techniques. There is no denying today that entertainment corporations and media conglomerates make up a crucial segment of the American business landscape. This dissertation argues that traveling amusement corporations occupied a similarly significant position at the turnof the twentieth century and established business practices that initiated the rise of the American commercial entertainment industry.

Included in

History Commons