The day's third talk was Edwardian Logistics par excellence – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West by John Ashley
Buffalo Bill, Colonel William Frederick Cody, travelled extensively with possibly the largest ever show of its kind (consisting of 800 performers at its height) during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, with logistical challenges that compare with the scale of transporting modern Formula One teams.
Cody became famous first as a record-breaking Pony Express rider and then as a scout for the US Army. He also earned money shooting buffalo to provide food for the railway crews. Many books were written about him, a large number by Ned Buntline but some by Cody himself. Ned Buntline brought Cody to New York to star with him in a play Buntline had written. Afterwards, Cody went back to scouting for the army. However, he always enjoyed being a showman, and so he decided to bring the Wild West to the rest of the world by hiring a stadium for cowboys, horses, buffalo, etc.
Cody toured Great Britain and Europe several times, covering 63,000 miles in his career. The arena on his repeat visits accommodated 20,000 people, with covered seating and a number of backdrops. Cody used electric floodlights for his evening shows – making them the first outdoor floodlit events in the world – requiring three generators. He also had the first ever follow-spots, as well as lighting for the tents. There was also a gift shop at the exit, and Cody is credited with introducing soda pop and candyfloss to the UK. He also invented the 'final farewell tour'.
On his tours Cody put on two performances per day, the arenas for which were always full. Finishing at 10 one night, the whole thing was transported overnight to be set up ready to start at 2 the following afternoon. The arena and tents required 23,000 yards of canvas, 20 miles of rope and 170 roustabouts to put up and take down.
The Wild West at its height required three trains to transport everything with a single additional carriage of another train travelling two weeks ahead of them to otganise sites and publicity.
John Ashley's work on Buffalo Bill forms part of his doctorate, and there will be a book. Full transcript of my notes also available for anyone who's interested.
To whet your appetite for the final talk of the day, here are some photos from the Museum's the War Effort exhibition: