General Tom Thumb
Born in 1838, at the age of just six months, Charles Stratton stopped growing. He was just 25 inches tall. While the parents of young Charles may have despaired, a distant cousin, a certain P.T. Barnum sensed an opportunity. Under Barnum’s direction, young Charles learned to sing, dance and even do impersonations. By the age of five, he was ready for the stage.
Barnum gave young Charles the stage name ‘General Tom Thumb‘. He also taught the young performer how to create an on-stage persona. Tom Thumb was to be aloof and haughty while at the same time comical. In 1843, Tom Thumb toured America and then, in 1844, he went to London, where he not only performed in the West End but also had an audience with Queen Victoria and other members of the Royal Family.
Having made his fame and fortune with two tours of England, by 1847, Barnum believed Tom Thumb was ready for New York. His show in the Big Apple was a huge hit. What’s more, it was a major milestone in show business. Up until this point, critics and the public, in general, had been dismissive of ‘freak shows’. However, in seeing Tomb Thumb comfortable in his role (and richly rewarded for his work), the attitude changed. Barnum was poised to cash in on this and make a fortune of his own.
In the 1860s, Tom Thumb started growing again. Not much, but enough to reach almost one meter tall. He also got married, to a fellow ‘little person’. Their marriage was a major celebrity event. The couple became extremely wealthy and enjoyed a fine life in New York. However, Tom Thumb had a stroke at the age of just 45 and died. His wife survived him by 35 years.