John Ringling, born May 31, 1866 in McGregor, Iowa. He was the fifth of eight children of a modest family and became one of America’s wealthiest. His life represents the epitome of the American Dream, coming from poor beginnings then creating his own destiny filled with wealth, power and International fame. His prosperity funded the expansion for the City of Sarasota, Florida, during the 1920’s. Ringling was a visionary, creating a master plan for his Mediterranean style resort that would bring tourism to the West Coast.
Ringling purchased a series of barrier Islands, enlarged them, installed sea walls, dredged canals for home sites, then built a series of spec homes designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum. His Sub-tropical real estate development incorporates an open-air shopping district called “St Armands Circle” having a City Park in its central axis.
From St Armands Key another bridge was built giving access to Longboat Key where Ringling donated 120 acres for a large golf course and Country Club to draw tourists to the area. He began the construction of a luxurious 200-room Rita-Carlton Hotel designed by New York Architects Warren and Wetmore of Grand Central Station fame.
He was appointed the President of the Tamiami Trail committee which included Thomas Edison in 1928. This established a travel route from Tampa to Miami for the expansion of tourist travel on the west coast of Florida.
As Florida land boom became a depressed market, John Ringling saved the local economy by bringing the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus to Sarasota. The winter quarters of the show ultimately became a Zoological Park featuring rare and exotic animals and live circus acts and was one of the top tourist attraction in the State of Florida before Disney. He became a community leader serving as President of the Chamber of Commerce from 1927 to 1929. He promoted Florida’s winter season tourism by sponsoring a Florida State exposition at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. He worked with film companies to document local festivals and beaches that was played in movie houses across America promoting the beauty of Florida.
He and his wife established the John and Mable Museum of Fine Art, completed in 1930. Ringling made a bequest of all his art collections and property to create the State Museum of Florida for all the world to enjoy.