Allen William Sells

ALLEN WILLIAM SELLS. Up to a few years ago every American boy had one very definite association with the name Sells. This name represented to him, as at least a passing mood, all the glory and wonder of the world through the great circus and menagerie operated under the name Sells Brothers. The Sells Brothers organization was one of the greatest achievements of its kind the world has known.

This name has had a long and intimate association with the City of Topeka because one of the original Sells Brothers, out of the world wide acquaintance with towns and localities, chose this city as his favorite home and place of residence, and the family has lived there ever since.

Mr. Allen William Sells, who was born in Topeka in 1892, and now resides at 914 West Ninth Street in that city, is a grandson of the Allen Sells who with his three brothers, Peter, Lewis and Ephraim founded the great circus and menagerie. Allen Sells was a native of Columbus, Ohio. The Sells Brothers was a title to conjure delight into the heart of every boy of the country for nearly half a century. Not many years ago the organization became part of the great corporation known as the Ringling Brothers. When Allen Sells retired from the show business about forty years ago his brothers continued it.

Having made at least a modest fortune from his connection with the circus Allen Sells invested most of it in Topeka real estate and Kansas farms. At one time he owned several thousand acres of land and for years had a ranch near Topeka. One of his farms subsequently became the property of the Colored Industrial Institute just east of Topeka. Kansas had few citizens who equalled Allen Sells in business ability. Prosperity seemed to attend every venture. For a number of years he was proprietor of the Chesterfield Hotel and he built the Windsor Hotel which later became the National. He was also a director in various financial institutions at Topeka. However varied were his business interests, he was first and last a lover of agriculture, and delighted in its practice and in promoting every movement connected therewith. If for no other reason his name should be mentioned in Kansas history as that of the first man to build a silo in the state. This silo, which attracted great attention at the time, was put up on his farm east of Topeka. He had traveled the world over, but settled in Kansas, liked Topeka, and appreciated both the state and her people.

William Allen Sells, son of Allen Sells, was probably the most noted bare-back rider of his time. He began practicing the art when a child, and subsequently performed in every city and remote hamlet of the United States and also before the royalty of Europe. After his return from his European tour he organized and conducted a show of his own for some years. He died in New York City in 1907.

In 1890 William Allen Sells married Miss Effigene Marris of Columbus, Ohio. Their only son and child is Allen William Sells, who as a boy and young man was almost constantly with his father and acquired a thorough knowledge of the show business in every detail. The year of his father's death he entered theatricals, starting in Topeka as an apprentice with the Shubert Enterprise on the legitimate stage. For the past four years his time and energies have been chiefly occupied in the operation of a fine farm, including a half section of land near Tecumseh. Mr. A. W. Sells is married and has one daughter, Mary Jane.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed October, 1997.
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