Trump's real predecessor

Donald Trump's real predecessor in American history was not P.T. Barnum, as some have suggested, but someone in the same line of work who also lived in the early 19th century and became a household name.

Dan Rice was born Daniel Maclaren in New York City in 1823.  He became one of the earliest American clowns, and through a series of entertainment jobs, he created the first American circus.  He is considered the father not only of the circus, but of vaudeville.  He was the first U.S. megastar of pop culture and prior to the U.S. Civil War was probably the most well-known person in the country.  Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were among his biggest fans.  He created "the greatest show on earth" before his later rival P.T. Barnum got into the circus business.  He is considered the model for the iconic figure of Uncle Sam.  Photographs of Rice how him to be the spitting image of the early Uncle Sam cartoons.  By 1867, he was so famous that he ran for president, although ironically the Democratic nomination went to his friend Horace Greeley.

(Coincidentally, Greeley had lived as a young man in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he held his first job as a reporter.  Dan Rice, years later, settled his circus in its winter quarters in a suburb of Erie, where "Dan Rice Days" are still observed every year.)

In many ways, Dan Rice created modern public relations as well.  An inveterate self-promoter, his personality reached into numerous aspects of early American life.  In fashion, he popularized "French cuffs" in the U.S.  He was not only a clown and circus impresario, but also an actor, director, strong man, animal trainer, professional dancer, and song writer.  He is the origin of several phrases that survive to this day, including "one horse show," "Hey, Rube!," and the political term "getting on the bandwagon" (the last from his invitation to 1848 presidential candidate Zachary Taylor to appear on  one of his circus wagons).

Rice ran for U.S. Congress, Senate, and finally president – although he withdrew from each of these races before the voting began.  In 1867, when he ran for president, he was only 44 years old, but he was at the height of his fame.  By the late 1870s, changes in the traveling circus, led by Barnum and others, caused a decline in Rice's fortune and popularity.

He died in New Jersey in 1900, virtually penniless and forgotten.

Dan Rice was not only the first great American cultural promoter and innovator, but a man of remarkable talents.  He was, in fact, the first true American pop culture celebrity who become eventually involved, albeit unsuccessfully, in politics.  There have been figures like him ever since, not only from entertainment, but from sports, films, business, and other walks of U.S. life.

Donald Trump is the latest version of this pop culture phenomenon.  Most, like Dan Rice, flare into fame and then end up forgotten.  A few, most notably Ronald Reagan, emerge from pop culture into significant success and impact in American politics.

It will be interesting to observe in the coming months which will be the outcome for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump's real predecessor in American history was not P.T. Barnum, as some have suggested, but someone in the same line of work who also lived in the early 19th century and became a household name.

Dan Rice was born Daniel Maclaren in New York City in 1823.  He became one of the earliest American clowns, and through a series of entertainment jobs, he created the first American circus.  He is considered the father not only of the circus, but of vaudeville.  He was the first U.S. megastar of pop culture and prior to the U.S. Civil War was probably the most well-known person in the country.  Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were among his biggest fans.  He created "the greatest show on earth" before his later rival P.T. Barnum got into the circus business.  He is considered the model for the iconic figure of Uncle Sam.  Photographs of Rice how him to be the spitting image of the early Uncle Sam cartoons.  By 1867, he was so famous that he ran for president, although ironically the Democratic nomination went to his friend Horace Greeley.

(Coincidentally, Greeley had lived as a young man in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he held his first job as a reporter.  Dan Rice, years later, settled his circus in its winter quarters in a suburb of Erie, where "Dan Rice Days" are still observed every year.)

In many ways, Dan Rice created modern public relations as well.  An inveterate self-promoter, his personality reached into numerous aspects of early American life.  In fashion, he popularized "French cuffs" in the U.S.  He was not only a clown and circus impresario, but also an actor, director, strong man, animal trainer, professional dancer, and song writer.  He is the origin of several phrases that survive to this day, including "one horse show," "Hey, Rube!," and the political term "getting on the bandwagon" (the last from his invitation to 1848 presidential candidate Zachary Taylor to appear on  one of his circus wagons).

Rice ran for U.S. Congress, Senate, and finally president – although he withdrew from each of these races before the voting began.  In 1867, when he ran for president, he was only 44 years old, but he was at the height of his fame.  By the late 1870s, changes in the traveling circus, led by Barnum and others, caused a decline in Rice's fortune and popularity.

He died in New Jersey in 1900, virtually penniless and forgotten.

Dan Rice was not only the first great American cultural promoter and innovator, but a man of remarkable talents.  He was, in fact, the first true American pop culture celebrity who become eventually involved, albeit unsuccessfully, in politics.  There have been figures like him ever since, not only from entertainment, but from sports, films, business, and other walks of U.S. life.

Donald Trump is the latest version of this pop culture phenomenon.  Most, like Dan Rice, flare into fame and then end up forgotten.  A few, most notably Ronald Reagan, emerge from pop culture into significant success and impact in American politics.

It will be interesting to observe in the coming months which will be the outcome for Donald Trump.