The Bandwagon Effect

Dan McLaren was born in New York City in 1823. He would change his name to Dan Rice as he became an entertainer. His uncle was the ringleader in a circus and Dan joined him. He traveled with the circus and at age 18 became a performer. He was innovative and originated the use of a canvas top. His main role was to serve as a clown.

Circuses at the time were adults-only entertainment. Violence and sex were part of the show. Dan however was a multitalented entertainer featuring song, dance, and horsemanship in his performances. He was also a satirical comedian.

Over time Dan’s fame grew, and he had his own show. He became the best-known performer in America. He was a pioneer of Vaudeville Style entertainment. He also influenced Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. The phrases One Horse Show and Greatest Show on Earth were used to describe his performances.

Dan was active in politics. He was a friend of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. He ran for numerous political offices including President and Senate but was unsuccessful. The iconic image of Uncle Sam is said to be modeled after Dan, and the image is remarkably similar.

Dan gave generously to people from both North and South who were ravished by the Civil War. As entertainment tastes evolved, Dan’s popularity waned. He was unable to cope with his loss in popularity and became an alcoholic. He died penniless.

For someone who was the best-known American at the time, he is virtually unknown now. But one contribution from Dan Rice remains today. When Zachary Taylor was running for President, Dan had him join him on a wagon as a band played to draw attention. This was then used by other candidates. Politicians began to use bandwagons and musicians to generate a sense of public enthusiasm. Psychologists describe the bandwagon effect as social conformity, and it has become a pervasive campaigning strategy today. While Dan Rice, the clown, failed in his attempts to get elected, many clowns that came after him have succeeded.

Some beginnings are a spur-of-the-moment decision. Often these endure as the bandwagon effect has endured. These beginnings are so accepted today that we rarely stop and think of where they began.

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“I remain just one thing, and one thing only – and that is a clown.” – Charlie Chaplin

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