Charles Sherwood Stratton (Tom Thumb) was born Jan. 4, 1838, in Bridgeport, Conn., to Sherwood Edward Stratton, a carpenter, and his wife, Cynthia, both of whom were of normal size. He was a fairly big child, weighing 9 pounds at birth. He grew normally for his first 5 months of life, reaching a length of 25 inches and a weight of 15 pounds, but then he simply quit growing. Other than his height, however, Charles was a normal, healthy person. He was what was known as a midget, which in those times meant a short person of normal proportions. Dwarves were then the name given to short people who had long trunks, big heads, and short limbs. Today little person is the "politically correct" term to use for both, and midget is considered derogatory.
Sherwood was discovered at age 5 by P. T. Barnum, who taught him to dance, sing, mime, and act. Sherwood was given the stage name General Tom Thumb and traveled the world in the company of Barnum, meeting with and performing for various leaders and royalty, including Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert. His parents accompanied him in all his travels. His starting wage at age 5 was 4 dollars a week with all expenses paid, and by 1844 he was making fifty dollars a week, with his parents and his traveling and living expenses paid.
Tom Thumb first went to Europe in 1844. His first performance there was at the Princess's Theatre where he was an instant success. Thumb, his parents and P. T. Barnum moved into the exclusive West End of London, where they began receiving a constant stream of the wealthy and the nobility of Europe. One of the early invitations to dinner that the party received was from the Baroness Rothschild, the wife of the richest banker in the world. Barnum engaged the Egyptian Hall in Picadilly and began a series of wildy successful public appearances by General Tom Thumb. At last, however, the most coveted of invitations arrived: an audience at Buckingham Palace with her majesty the Queen.
On the appointed evening, Barnum and Thumb arrived at the palace and were escorted into a room where Queen and Prince Albert, the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Wellington, and others awaited them. Tom Thumb proceeded to thoroughly charm the entire party. When Thumb was exiting, however, the scene occurred which forever endeared him to the Queen. Tom Thumb and his party were exiting the room in the proper manner, which was backing out facing the Queen. When Tom, with his short legs, realized that he was losing ground and not keeping up with the rest of his party, he turned and ran a few steps to catch up then turned and resumed backing. This so entertained the royal spectators that soon the gallery rang with their laughter. This excited the Queen's favorite poodle dog, who commenced barking and startled the General so much that he began attacking the dog with his little cane, which renewed and increased the merriment of the royal party. After that, Tom could do no wrong in the Queen of England's eyes. This added to Thumb's popularity both in Europe and back in the United States, where he was a particular favorite of President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln.
In 1863 Tom Thumb married Lavinia Warren in New York in front of over 2,000 wedding guests. It was the most celebrated wedding of its time, and beside many well known people attending the ceremony, President and Mrs. Lincoln sent gifts. To receive their guests, the bride (a dwarf herself) and groom stood atop a grand piano.
Tom Thumb died of a stroke on July 15, 1883. His funeral was attended by more than 10,000 people. He is buried in Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The statue of him, on top of his headstone is life size.