Peter, Ephraim, Allen and Lewis Sells (grandsons of german immigrant Ludwig Sells) founded a circus in 1871, initially based on Cannonball George Richards and some horse acts.
Allen Sells was the manager; Lewis was assistant manager and superintendent, with Ephraim as treasurer and superintendent of tickets. Peter was the "front man" for the show.
1873: They bought their first elephant 1873.
1875: 7 elephants, the largest number of elephants on any show in USA. (Hoage, Deiss, From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century, page 103)
1883: Sells bros had eight elephants. (Hoage, Deiss, From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century, page 103)
1887: Sells bros offered six african elephants for sale, three of which were very large. (Richard Reynolds writes on William Woodcocks blog that 4 of them were: Mike, Topsy, Fannie and Zip)
1890: the Sells Brothers Circus was the second largest circus in America.
1891: 13 elephants. source.
1891: visiting Australia in 1891.
1895: James A. Bailey acquired one-third interest in the circus.
1896: The menagerie was large and included African elephants Mike and Topsy, Asian elephants Sid, Queen, Dutch, Babe, Rubber, Betts, Romeo, Vic, Dick and John. source (total 12)
1898: Ephraim, the eldest brother, died in 1898. After Ephraim's death, James Bailey of Barnum and Bailey and W.W. Cole (of Cole Brothers Circus) each acquired a quarter interest in the business.
1904: After Peter and Allen died in 1904, Lewis Sells sold the remaining shares of the show to Bailey for $150,000 cash in 1905.
1896: the Barnum & Bailey Show, already the owners of the Adam Forepaugh show, bought an interest in Sells Brothers show, and combined the two under the name of Adam Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Great Consolidated Shows.