Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


David T. Humphries

Subject Categories

American Popular Culture | Music Business | Other Film and Media Studies | Sales and Merchandising | Television


popular culture, american studies, television, clowns, circus, recordings


There is no single path toward the creation of an American icon, a person or item with resonance to all in the country as well as having an ability to serve as a symbol of America itself for those outside the borders. This thesis considers certain elements that propelled the journey of the entertainment for children, Bozo the Clown, into a representational figure in the minds of young and old. Like all things American, his roots include many elements from outside the country: the name derives from foreign tongues mostly in derisory terms, but in at least one instance as a prod for contemplation. Within the country, the character has been a commercial success from his introduction in 1946 as a best-selling children’s record/book combination; served as a branding tool; used in the early years of television to pioneer the idea of franchising a show, and “Bozo” now signifies in word and image what is a clown. Its cultural and commercial connection has it embedded deep within the American psyche. While there have been no Bozo the Clown records for decades, and the final Bozo television show aired in 2001, the term remains in regular use even by those with no exposure to the character on record or through a screen, and the character remains part of popular culture, not least as demonstrated with the recent sale of the rights to the name and character. The thesis analyzes the character’s antecedents, uses contemporaneous accounts and academic analysis of media to chart the clown’s journey as a character, and leaves off in the present, with Bozo established in culture and commerce.