Charles Sherwood Stratton was born on 4 January, 1838 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA. By the age of one year, his parents realised that Charles was not growing as a baby should; he was a dwarf, a condition that would put him in the limelight, and make him a wealthy household name.
When Charles was just four years old and at a height of 24 inches (61 cm) he was hired by Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810 - 1891), an American showman known for exhibiting human oddities; some of which were fake. Barnum gave Charles the stage name of 'General Tom Thumb' and, ignoring his mother's concerns, claimed the four-year-old Charles was 11 when he exhibited him at his American Museum, a showcase for curiosities in New York.
Barnum decided to transform Tom Thumb into an entertainer rather than just an exhibit. He had adult-style clothing and character costumes specially tailored for Tom Thumb. He also enhanced his natural singing and mimicking talents and tutored him to dance and to speak and act as if he were an aristocratic gentleman.
In 1843, at the tender age of five years old, Tom Thumb made his first tour of America, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as singing, dancing and comical banter with another performer who acted as straight man. It was a huge success and the tour expanded.
A year later he travelled to the UK and began a three-year tour of Europe. He made his UK debut on stage at the Princess's Theatre, London. After The Illustrated London News labelled Tom Thumb 'a little monster', Barnum succeeded in obtaining him an audience with Queen Victoria. Later appearances in London were a huge success, with the general public labelling him as 'the wonderful little man'.
By the age of ten years old, Stratton, in the guise of Tom Thumb, had met various dignitaries including Queen Victoria, Isabella of Spain and King Louis Philippe of France. He would go on to meet more. These meetings helped to boost Stratton's public profile and his wealth. He continued to tour and perform into his adult life.
Under Barnum's management Tom Thumb, whose adult height was 33 inches (84 cm), made Stratton a wealthy man. He owned a house in the fashionable part of New York and a steam yacht and had a wardrobe of fine clothes. When Barnum got into financial difficulty it was Stratton who bailed him out; later they became business partners.
In 1862 Barnum hired Lavinia Warren1, a 21-year-old 32 inch (81cm) dwarf. Lavinia first appeared at Barnum's American Museum in January 1863; advertised as 'the smallest woman alive' and 'the little Queen of Beauty'. When Stratton and Lavinia met, it was love at first sight. After a whirlwind romance they got married in New York's Grace Church on 10 February, 1863. It was a lavish and fashionable wedding.
Lavinia arrived at the church in a miniature wedding carriage, wearing a white satin bridal dress and matching shoes, her long lace train trailing behind her. Around her neck she wore a diamond necklace, a gift from her soon-to-be husband. Their bridesmaid was Minnie Warren2, Lauren's younger sister, and the best man was Commodore Nutt3. Both were also dwarves, and were in the employment of Barnum.
The reception was held at the Metropolitan Hotel and the many wedding gifts on display included those from dignitaries Stratton had met. Barnum's involvement in the wedding included compiling the guest list; approximately 2,000 guests were invited to the wedding of Mr and Mrs Tom Thumb. Police had to cordon off the area around the Metropolitan Hotel to control the crowds of well-wishers.
The Quartet's Tour
Stratton, Lavinia, Nutt and Minnie toured America and Europe together, often performing to a variable set routine. In 1866 they performed at the Corn Exchange in Peterborough, UK. By this time Stratton and Lavinia had a baby daughter and their performance was advertised as 'General Tom Thumb and his celebrated little wife together with their infant daughter, the wonder of the age, and the equally renowned Commodore Nutt, and the infinitesimal Minnie Warren'. During this time they were giving three performances a day at regular times; 11am, 3pm and 8pm, varying their performance in each show. The second act of each performance began with Lavinia introducing their baby daughter on stage and each would end with Mr and Mrs Tom Thumb dancing a polka.
Mrs and Mrs Tom Thumb's Baby
It later transpired that the news of Mrs and Mrs Thumb's parenthood was a hoax. The baby girl Lavinia proudly paraded on stage was said to be from a foundling home. There is a high probability that this hoax was instigated and arranged by Barnum.
Retirement and Death
They continued to entertain audiences in the US, Europe and other countries until they retired in 1882. Stratton/Tom Thumb died at the age of 45 but Lavinia lived on to the age of 78. Commodore Nutt died of kidney disease at the age of 33. Minnie, who married fellow dwarf Major Edward Newall, died at the age of 29 during childbirth.