Barnum's single most lucrative attraction was "General" Tom Thumb, a dwarf. Born Charles Sherwood Stratton, the boy appears in this 1842 photograph with his father, a carpenter. Stratton enjoyed a long career with Barnum, eventually marrying another dwarf who joined him on stage.

Barnum's museum included a wide range of physical "freaks," including albinos, giants, extremely fat and extremely thin people, bearded ladies etc. He claimed to have the world's tallest, shortest, heaviest, thinnest and hairiest men and women. Americans in this period were especially interested in physical difference, and the relation between the way people looked and their inner character.