Gamma Phi started life at Illinois State (Normal) University as a gymnastics fraternity in 1929. Sponsored by Director of Physical Education Clifford "Pop" Horton, it soon developed into a student organization that drew on Bloomington’s deep circus roots to entertain both campus and community.
Since 1932, the Gamma Phi Circus has performed to a packed house every spring, first in McCormick Gymnasium, then in Horton Field House--which transformed into the "Horton Big Top" for the event—and most recently in Redbird Arena. Only during the years of World War II and the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has the show not gone on. Over the decades the spectacles have gotten larger and the crowds bigger, but the core of Gamma Phi remains "Pop" Horton’s vision "to promote the interest of physical education among the students of the University [and] honor gymnastic excellence in the individual members of the student body."