Tom Thumb Day
annually on January 4th
Charles Sherwood Stratton, who would become known as General Tom Thumb, was born on today's date in 1838, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Although he was born a normal size, by the age of six months he had stopped growing, possibly because of a pituitary gland issue, such as Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD). At the time, he was 25 inches long and weighed 15 pounds. It wasn't until age 9 that he started growing again—albeit at a slow pace—and he was just two feet, eight inches tall when he reached the age of 18. He kept growing throughout his life and eventually reached three feet, four inches in height and a weight of 70 pounds.
Stratton was just four years old when he met circus impresario P.T. Barnum, who was a distant relative. Barnum became the boy's manager, and taught him how to sing, dance, mime, and make impersonations. Stratton became one of the "wonders" at Barnum's American Museum in New York City, where he arrived on December 8, 1842. Barnum paid Stratton's father three dollars a week to let his boy be there, and Stratton and his mother lived in an apartment in the museum.
The first major attraction that Barnum promoted, Stratton was billed as an eleven-year-old dwarf from England named General Tom Thumb, when it fact he was from America and just turning five. Barnum took the name "Tom Thumb" from English folklore. Stratton, or General Tom Thumb, wore costumes on stage and played various characters such as Napoleon. His pay went from three dollars a week to fifty dollars a week in a short amount of time.
General Tom Thumb started touring America at the age of five and toured Europe when he was six. He was invited to perform at Buckingham Palace, and appeared before Queen Victoria, doing his songs, dances, and imitations. A young Edward VII, who would later become king, was also in the audience and met General Tom Thumb following his performance. His appearance at the palace made him a star in London, and he subsequently rode around the city in a miniature carriage. He then traveled to perform in other European capitals.
He toured across America in 1856, and the following year he once again went on tour in Europe. He married another dwarf who was in Barnum's employment, Livinia Warren, who was known as the "Little Queen of Beauty," in 1863. Their wedding was held at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City, and 10,000 guests attended their reception. They stopped at the White House while on their honeymoon and met with President Lincoln. They went on to take a three-year world tour in the late 1860s.
General Tom Thumb amassed great wealth during his career, enjoying a luxurious house, steam yacht, and fine clothing. And when P.T. Barnum found himself in financial trouble, it was Thumb who stepped up to help. He performed with his wife until the 1880s, and they then retired to Middleboro, Massachusetts. Charles Sherwood Stratton, the dwarf known as General Tom Thumb, died from a stroke at the age of 45, on July 15, 1883. We celebrate him today, on the anniversary of his birth.
How to Observe Tom Thumb Day
Here are some ideas on how to celebrate the legacy of General Tom Thumb today:
- Read a book such as The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb: A Novel or Barnum Presents General Tom Thumb.
- Watch The Real Tom Thumb: History's Smallest Superstar.
- View photos of him.
- Visit his grave.
- Visit the Barnum Museum.
- See a collection of his artifacts at the Middleborough Historical Museum, and stop at one of his homes, also located in Middleborough.