In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the advent of radio and television, Americans sought other sources of entertainment, like the popular circus. By 1911 more than 30 circus companies toured the country, to the delight of children and adults alike. Often, schools and businesses shut down when circuses came to town to ensure that no one miss the big show. On the day the circus arrived, a grand parade preceded the performances. The parade, featuring decorated elephants, horseback riders, a lively circus band, and embellished wagons carrying exotic animals, served a dual purpose. It provided entertainment and also served as an advertisement, generating even more excitement for the show and assuring the townspeople that the spectacle would prove well worth the price of admission.
Toy company A. Schoenhut of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, began to create a line of miniature circus figures in 1903, drawing on the immense popularity of the circus. Schoenhut's true-to-life collection of animals, performers, and props also included all of the necessary accoutrement of a spectacular circus parade. The company's first wild-animal wagon appeared around 1910, complete with colorful embellishments and a pair of horses to move it along. Later wagons, like this one, had a much simpler design. Schoenhut also produced a band wagon, equipped with miniature musicians and their instruments. By the time Schoenhut succumbed to the Great Depression in the 1930s, the circus, too, experienced sharp decline, as American's found other forms of entertainment more appealing. Still, the circus remains an important part of American history and culture, and Schoenhut's toys attest to the circus's popularity and grandeur.