It’s strange to compare what passes for a celebrity today with who was considered famous in the mid-1800s. It’s even stranger when you consider, at least according to biographer Eric D. Lehman, that one of the first true American celebrities bore no resemblances to the rich socialites, rappers, athletes, and former Mickey Mouse Club stars we obsess over today — he was a little person who stood under three-and-a-half feet tall named General Tom Thumb.
Lehman’s new biography, Becoming Tom Thumb, lovingly documents the life and times of the massively popular Thumb (born Charles Stratton in 1838), whose rose to fame thanks to his distant relative P.T. Barnum. The book is must-read for anyone who’s interested in the history of American celebrity culture or Barnum himself. Thankfully for us, Stratton’s short life (he died of a stroke at 45 years old) happened to coincide with the popularization of photography. Click through to catch a glimpse of this fascinating early American celebrity.
General Tom Thumb with P.T. Barnum
Stratton and wife Lavinia Warren on the cover of Harper’s Weekly, 1836
After the wedding
General Tom Thumb as Napoleon