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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The community of Ringling is located in Jefferson County, Oklahoma. It is situated north of the intersection of U.S. Highway 70 and State Highway 89, twenty-five miles east of Waurika and twenty-seven miles west of Ardmore. Ringling originated in 1914 and was incorporated in 1915. The town was named in honor of John Ringling, its founder and the proprietor of the Ringling Brothers Circus.

In 1913 John Ringling partnered with Jake Hamon to build a railroad westward from Ardmore to Lawton. Ringling financed the enterprise, and construction on the Oklahoma, New Mexico and Pacific Railway, popularly called the Ringling Railroad, began on May 1, 1913. The objective of the venture was to provide market access to farmers and ranchers in south-central and southwestern Oklahoma. Ringling and Hamon changed their plans, however, with the August 1913 discovery of oil in the Healdton Field.

Ringling and Hamon stopped the westbound construction of their railroad in January 1914. The line had reached eastern Jefferson County when they decided to build a branch line to Healdton, located some ten miles to the northeast. John Ringling purchased the land surrounding the Ringling Railroad's western terminus in April 1914. A post office was established at the site two months later, and the boomtown of Ringling was born.

With oil fields located north and east of town, the petroleum industry helped Ringling prosper and grow. Despite that industry's decline, the town's population remained stable throughout the twentieth century. The census recorded 1,039 inhabitants in 1920. That number dropped to 902 in 1940 but climbed to 1,170 in 1960 and 1,561 in 1980. There were 1,135 Ringling residents in 2000 and 1,037 in 2010. In 2001 the Ringling public school system included three primary and secondary facilities and was the community's major employer. The town lacked a hospital but had a bank, six Protestant churches, a weekly newspaper, the Ringling Eagle, and a public library, a park, a tennis court, and a swimming pool.

Jon D. May


Jim M. Dyer, History of Jefferson County, Oklahoma (N.p.: N.p., 1957).

Kenny A. Franks, Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1986).

"Ringling," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Jerry Sullivan, "The Ringling Railroad," Oklahoma Today 17 (Summer 1967).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Jon D. May, “Ringling,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=RI008.

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