Behind the scenes photos of the 'Greatest Show on Earth' in the 1940s

Stunning never-before-seen photos of the beloved Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that traveled across America, dazzling and shocking audiences in the 1940s have emerged, and the color photographs offer a rare behind-the-scenes look at troupe in its early days. 

For decades Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, also known as the Greatest Show on Earth, has spread laughter and excitement across the globe with their daring tricks, acrobats, and stunts with wild animals. 

The group started as two separate entities in 1871 before joining forces in 1919 and together put on shows for decades before calling the final curtain in 2017. 

Photographer Charles Weever Cushman, of Posey County, Indiana, followed the troupe in the late 1940s, capturing the daring actors, their training, and colorful costumes during their tour in Chicago. 

He captured the photographs using Kodachrome, an early adopter of the revolutionary color process. His massive library of some 14,500 Kodachrome color slides are archived at the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University. 

Stunning color slide photographs show behind the scenes of the world famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as the troupe toured across America in the 1940s. The Alzanas of the high wire, a troupe that performed stunts while crossing a high wire pictured above in costume in 1949

Stunning color slide photographs show behind the scenes of the world famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as the troupe toured across America in the 1940s. The Alzanas of the high wire, a troupe that performed stunts while crossing a high wire pictured above in costume in 1949

When the Alanza members weren't training for their high wire stunts, they pitched tents and performed their daily chores such as laundry in their downtime. Two Alanza women from the Ringling Circus Chicago pictured above drying their laundry

When the Alanza members weren't training for their high wire stunts, they pitched tents and performed their daily chores such as laundry in their downtime. Two Alanza women from the Ringling Circus Chicago pictured above drying their laundry

Rose Behee and her brother-in-law Clayon were apart of the Flying Beehees known as the 'greatest flying trapeze act in the world'. The duo pictured left in 1946 in their matching orange costumes

A poster for their wondrous act advertised them as the Flying Beehees also known as the 'greatest flying trapeze act in the world'

Rose Behee and her brother-in-law Clayon were apart of the Flying Beehees known as the 'greatest flying trapeze act in the world'. The duo pictured left in 1946 in their matching orange costumes. A poster for their wondrous act pictured right

Keeping to the animals: The travelling circus featured wild animals like elephants and lions in their performances. Circus members pictured above tending to the giant creatures after a show

Keeping to the animals: The travelling circus featured wild animals like elephants and lions in their performances. Circus members pictured above tending to the giant creatures after a show 

Bunch of Bozos! Photographer Charles Weever Cushman, of Posey County, Indiana, followed the troupe in the late 1940s, capturing the daring actors, their training, and colorful costumes. He snapped this group of clowns on opening day of the Ringling Circus in Chicago, Illinois on August 2, 1947

Bunch of Bozos! Photographer Charles Weever Cushman, of Posey County, Indiana, followed the troupe in the late 1940s, capturing the daring actors, their training, and colorful costumes. He snapped this group of clowns on opening day of the Ringling Circus in Chicago, Illinois on August 2, 1947

He snapped this elephant standing on its head while a woman rides it on August 5, 1949 during the Circus' stop in Chicago

A man pictured balancing on his hand and a stick on the right

He snapped this elephant standing on its head while a woman rides it on August 5, 1949 during the Circus' stop in Chicago. Stunt man Harold Alanza pictured right balancing on his hand and a stick that same day

In his shows he followed trapeze performers Clayton and Rose Behee known as 'The Flying Behees - The greatest flying trapeze act

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