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Famous Magicians: An Introduction to Harry Houdini

Whenever the topic of famous magicians comes up, you cannot ignore the infamous existence of Harry Houdini, who strived to push the limits of escapology and stunt performing. From submerging himself in water-filled chambers of death to getting himself out of the scariest, most impossible situations, Houdini was a popular master of illusion and escapology. In this article, you will learn more about Houdini and his influence on the world of magic.

Born March 24, 1874, Harry Houdini was first known as Ehrich Weiss , a Budapest, Hungary native who immigrated to the United States with his family on July 3, 1878. He was four years old at the time, traveling about the SS Fresia with his pregnant mother and four brothers. While in the United States, his friends called him ‘Ehrie’ or ‘Harry’ and the name soon stuck.

When his family first settled in America, they called Appleton, Wisconsin their home. It was there that his father served as a rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. In 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen, but after losing his tenure, he relocated with Harry to New York City in 1887. The two of them lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. When he found a more permanent dwelling, the rest of the family moved to New York as well.

When Harry was a child, he took on many jobs. His first taste of the public spotlight came at the age of 9. He was a trapeze artist that went by “Ehrich, the prince of the air”. At the age of 15, Harry read an autobiography by Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin , who was known as the father of modern magic. At the suggestion of a friend, Harry added an ‘i’ to the end of Houdin to adopt a name that paid homage to the magician.

His father took Harry around as a traveling magician, which allowed his interest in the field to grow. He became increasingly fascinated with magic. At first, Harry entertaining onlookers with traditional card and coin magic and boasting the name the ‘King of Cards.’ One of his tricks was called ‘card on the ceiling,’ where he took a card that a spectator had chosen, signed it, and returned it to the deck. He would then throw a shuffled pack at the ceiling and the chosen card would stick. However, card tricks didn’t provide a challenge for Houdini. He decided to try his luck with escape acts.

In the second part of this introduction to Harry Houdini titled “Harry Houdini: The Making of a Magician”, you will learn about some of his most well known of tricks, his interest in making ‘moving pictures,’ as well as a subject that really got Houdini’s blood boiling.