General Tom Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton, was a dwarf born in the mid-19th century who became a famous circus performer under P.T. Barnum. Stratton started his career as a performer at a very young age, his parents willingly putting their son on public display as a means to earn $3 per week. In the modern era, many would consider the actions of Barnum, Stratton's parents, and the media to be exploitative. Because of his work in the era's "freak shows," Stratton managed to use his disability to travel the world, mingle with royalty, and bring General Tom Thumb's net worth to levels you probably will never reach.
During an age when disabled people had few opportunities and were shunned by society, Stratton used his short stature to entertain others and make a good life for himself and his wife. As one of the most famous circus sideshow performers ever, Stratton achieved a fame that made him recognizable to even Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln. Even today, it remains unclear what caused Stratton's short stature. X-rays weren't invented until 12 years after his death, and doctors at the time were mystified by his condition. Though Stratton may have been small, his legacy is anything but.
Americans Obsessed Over "Freaks Of Nature" Just Like Him
In the mid-19th century, Americans loved the odd and unusual. P.T. Barnum showcased strange individuals, such as giants, dwarves, albinos, and people covered in hair in his Hall of Living Curiosities. Nobody thought freak shows were inappropriate. In turn, these shows were very popular and made the organizers a lot of money. For the "freaks" themselves, such shows offered opportunities the able-bodied world denied to them.
He Performed For Queen VictoriaPhoto: W. & D. Downey / Wikimedia Commons
Aiming to make Stratton an international star, Barnum took him to England. A risky play, it was at that point unclear what the English would think of a performing dwarf. Eventually, Barnum's protégé was personally invited by Queen Victoria to perform at Buckingham palace. Stratton sang and performed impressions, but what the audience loved most took place after his performance. While etiquette required one to leave facing the queen, Stratton's little feet prevented him from walking backwards. So he would run a few steps, stop, turn, and bow, which agitated the royal spaniel. As the dog barked repeatedly at him, Stratton in turn took out his ceremonial sword and pretended to fight the canine. Everyone loved it.
He Was A Famous Celebrity And Mobbed By Female Admirers
After making a large impression on Queen Victoria with that improvised sword-fight, Stratton traveled around Europe with Barnum for three years, and his popularity soared. He became a bonafide celebrity, and wherever he traveled, he was mobbed by crowds of people. Women lined up on the street just to get a kiss from him. In many cases, husbands got very jealous about the attention their wives paid to Stratton.
He Married A Little Person And Abraham Lincoln Hosted Their Honeymoon
When Stratton married another little person, Lavinia Warren, it made front page news. They wed at Grace Episcopal Church and held their reception at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York City. Thousands of guests attended the reception, and the newlyweds stood on top of a piano to greet them. Fellow Barnum employee George Washington Morrison ("Commodore") Nutt was the best man. Lavinia's smaller sister, Minnie Warren, was the maid of honor. To top it all off, President Abraham Lincoln hosted their honeymoon party at the White House.