The Showmen's League And Oaba

The carnival business is considered entertainment but it is a business. There are two organizations which many carnival owners belong to.

My family owns a carnival which was started by my grandfather and his uncle in the late 1930’s and 40’s. This of course is considered an outdoor amusement business. As such they belong to two organizations.


These include the Showmens League of America and the OABA (Outdoor Amusement Business Association). Many of the members include; Carnival Owners, Concession Managers, People who manage games, and usually are affiliated with the various carnivals through families. No, not everyone is a family member and not every family member is in the Showmen’s League. It is odd that many people think of running off to

join a carnival when they are actually run by families.


The Showmens League of America is known to us as the Showmens League or SLA. This organization has quite a history the first Showmen’s League president was Buffalo Bill Cody from the Wild West Shows. He did so much with side shows and attracting people to see what life was like in the wild west. These shows are also called “Bill Shows” especially those with side shows such as fire eaters and oddities.


The carnival business is, for the most part, owned by families. The philosophy there is to provide entertainment to families to “bring, joy, happiness and memories” to other families.


Many people in my family are active members in the Showmen’s League and the OABA for that matte; beginning with my Grandfather Bernard Thomas, who was president of the SLA in the 1970’s. Since then both of my uncles, one of my cousin’s mother in law and my cousin have been Showmen’s League President.


One of my uncles has been the treasurer and held other offices in the OABA for many years.
And both uncles have president of that association; as


The Showmen’s League and OABA also offer scholar ships for the youngsters of carnival workers they have kept up this practice so young people can continue their education.


Every year after Thanksgiving in the US; there is a convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Oddly, I have never been to one. Things have always come up, where I never wound up going.


The OABA usually has raffles and raises money for this and that throughout the year. At the end of the year things are settled with it and prizes are awarded.


Recently my uncle was talking to someone who asked how many carnivals there are in the USA and Canada. My uncle told him that there are not as many as there used to be. The legitimate ones have to have insurance and ride inspections in each location where the show plays.

Most of the ones who are not members of these two associations are not considered legit, but are rather shady.

Each year the Showmens League presents the Showmens’ League Books which feature the in going and out going presidents and often shows pictures and entries by various carnivals. They also announce deaths of prominent members of the carnivals.



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  • A K Rao  11-05-2014
    Interesting write up dear TannaThomas ! I was associated with some Indian Carnival Organisers as a Ventriloquist. In fact I learnt Ventriloquism from a person who used to perform in taught me, that gentle man asked me to perform in some carnivals to gain the confidence and expertese in this art. So I used to perform in various Carnivals in India on contract basis about thirty years back, which I believe was the best experience I ever had as a Ventriloquist so far in my life! Thanks !
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Grandpa Bernard
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