Ringling Barnum advertise themselves as The Greatest Show on Earth. A pair of business professors suggest what the lot lice observed might also be billed that way.
While circus management devoted considerable expertise in developing procedures and equipment to shorten the logistics time and effort required to support the performance and movement of the circus, there were, in fact, two objectives. The first was concerned with the effective procurement, stowage, and transportation of the circus to meet its performance schedule. This goal was to synchronize all activities into a smooth and even flow in the face of many uncertainties. The combination of specialized materials handling equipment, precise operating procedures, and job specialization all contributed to the circus operating as a “well oiled machine.”

The logistics principles discussed here highlight the fact that what may well be considered new management ideas and procedures today were employed more than a century ago by creative, resourceful individuals in an industry where continuous and smooth, even flow were critical to success.
It's not often that an academic article includes vintage photographs of the runs, the lot, and even the efforts of a conscientious crew of tack-spitters, let alone a recognition that low-technology approaches can be used in an advanced way.
The flexibility in movement of circus resources was limited only by the rail track. By the end of the Golden Age, practically every community large enough to support a circus visit had been linked by rail. As noted in Figure 6, 743 different cities were visited during a 20-year period by the Ringling Bros. Circus, the Barnum & Bailey Circus or their combined circus.

At the other extreme, the circus employed low technology for the majority of its material handling activities. This lower technology consisted primarily of horses, elephants, and humans. Although these forms of materials handling resources might be viewed as relatively inefficient, they were extremely flexible—with the possible exception of elephants.
I'm glad the authors qualified that exception. A pair of rubber mules are steadier at raising center poles and tops than a team of horses, and if the switch engine is not available at the crossing, a pair of 0-2-2-0 Pachyderms will suffice.

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