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Custom tent brings thrill of the circus to Chicago

Project Briefs | December 1, 2011 | By:

Armbruster Mfg. Co.’s history with circus tents dates back to the 1890s, when a traveling circus came to Springfield, Ill., and asked the awning and wagon cover manufacturer to fabricate a new canvas tent.

“This was the beginning of Armbruster making large canvas tents,” says president Hellar Armbruster. “Throughout our history we have custom manufactured circus tents for many of the major circus companies.”

Even so, requests for circus tents don’t come along too often: circuses use the same tent for decades and in recent years, many circuses have moved indoors. In 2009, The Midnight Circus, which partners with the city of Chicago for a circus-in-the-parks program, contacted Armbruster for a new tent, but the project was on hold until the circus secured financial backing. Once funding was secured, the time from production to delivery in September 2011 was less than 60 days.

“Using some of the existing hardware in our TensionTent® series helped, but our factory worked overtime to meet their deadline,” Armbruster says.

Because the tent will be installed in parks all over Chicago, the circus wanted a structure that could be set up and taken down in hours. And, to be expected, the structure needed to meet Chicago’s strict permitting rules.

“The Midnight Circus tent uses the same hardware and technology found in our TensionTent and EuroTent,” Armbruster says. “This includes heavy-duty stainless steel plates and rigging, Ferrari fabrics, reinforced webbing, structural grade aluminum poles, ratchets, stakes and plates.”

One unique design feature is the custom fabricated hoods designed to hold flagpoles, Armbruster says. “To meet the original conceptual drawing, we custom designed hoods that could be easily installed before the tent was raised, yet withstand heavy wind loads,” he says. “We designed the hoods to attach to the center pole rings, which also support the acrobats and rigging. Another feature is custom entrances that matched the features of the tent as well as two dressing tents made from the same fabric as the circus tent.”

The circus plans to put on shows in about 12 different parks in Chicago per season. With an expected lifespan of 25-30 years, the tent will help Chicago kids enjoy a circus experience for at least a generation.

“The client was amazed at the quality of the hardware used in the construction as well as how well the patterning and colors turned out compared to the circus tents they had used in the past,” Armbruster says. “The tent far surpassed their original concept.”

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