“Yankee Dan” Rice
Dan Rice (1823-1901) – President Lincoln’s Court Jester
Inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame The American Grimaldi – Dan Rice was the first truly great American clown, as well as the first clown star of the circus. Dan Rice was born in New York City in 1823. Dan Rice’s first appearance as a circus clown was in Galena, Illinois, in 1844 at $15 a week. Gradually his popularity as a wise-cracking, aphoristic, cracker-barrel philosopher, a forerunner of Will Rogers, became so great that he was able to buy his own shows, both wagon and riverboat.
By 1862 he was earning $1000.00 a week, twice as much as President Lincoln. He and President Lincoln were good friends, as were Dan and Jefferson Davis. He was called the President’s court jester. Yankee Dan Rice
was well-known for his Shakespearean quips, as well as for a biting tongue. A philanthropist he gave generously to many charities and erected the first monument to soldiers killed during the Civil War.
Dan Rice was an accomplished animal trainer. He specialized in pigs and mules, which he trained and sold to other clowns. He also presented an act with a trained rhinoceros and is the only person in circus history to present a tightrope walking elephant. A composer, he created many popular topical songs.
Yankee Dan Rice and Politics
He campaigned for Zachary Taylor for President. One of the things he would do was invite Taylor to ride on the circus bandwagon in the circus parades. Local politicians would clamor to ride as well hoping his popularity would benefit them. People would comment, “Look who’s on Taylor’s bandwagon,” inspiring the phrase “jump on the bandwagon.”
His nontraditional costume consisted of red, white, and blue-striped tights, a star-spangled cloak, a top hat and chin whiskers, the regalia that would later be associated with “Uncle Sam.” Today, he is arguably best-known as the political cartoonist Ogden Nash’s model for Uncle Sam. Rice’s style as clown was based on that of William Wallet, who was an English “Shakespearean” clown who could respond to comments from the spectators with appropriate quotes from the Bard.
Throughout the Civil War, Rice prospered and became a figure of national prominence. You can read a very detailed biography of Dan Rice in Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You’ve Never Heard Of
Bibliography for Dan Rice