Jumbo the Elephant

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Jumbo's departure from England was documented via advertising images, 1882. His arrival in America ushered in a new era in which his image would be used to advertise a variety of products - from coffee and thread to food and medicine. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.  

Jumbo the Elephant was one of the world’s first animal superstars. Born in East Africa in 1862, the young elephant was captured and sent to Europe, where he was the first captive African elephant to live into adulthood. Eventually Jumbo was brought to England by the London Zoological Gardens. Jumbo lived at the London Zoo for sixteen years and was a favorite of both children and adults. Jumbo was the single largest elephant in captivity and the American showman and circus-owner, P. T. Barnum, wanted Jumbo for his own. Barnum purchased Jumbo in 1882 and brought the elephant to America. Jumbo’s arrival in the United States ushered in an era of “Jumbo-mania,” in which all things related to Jumbo the elephant were wildly popular. The American consumer market were flooded with thousands of images of Jumbo endorsing thread, birthday cards, candy, clothing, jewelry, soap and various patent medicines.

Jumbo was killed by a Grand Trunk Freight Engine in Ontario, Canada in 1885. In typical Barnum fashion, P. T. announced Jumbo’s death as a “hero’s death,” and he promoted the idea that Jumbo gave his life to save that of a baby elephant. Jumbo’s legacy lived on long after his death. He was the single most popular animal used in advertising images.  From sewing thread to Castoria Oil, Jumbo’s image was used to sell products. The Castoria Oil advertisements, for example, feature an image of Jumbo in a fictional jungle setting where he was raised on Castoria Oil, and as a result, grew big and strong.