Today in History: Master Illusionist Harry Houdini is Born

On this day, more than 138 years ago, one of the most notable and famous illusionists in history was born. Let us look back at the fascinating and magical life of master magician and escape artist Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini. Photo via Magic Library.

Born as Erik Weisz, the future magician was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary, and was one of the seven children of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weisz and Cecelia Weisz (nee Steiner). When he arrived in the United States in July 1878 with his mother and four brothers, the family changed their surname into its German counterpart “Weiss” and his name into “Ehrich.” They first settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, then, in 1887, Ehrich moved with his father to New York City. The rest of the family moved in with them soon after Rabbi Weiss found a permanent housing.

Beginning his life of magic and entertainment at a young age, he debuted as a 9-year-old trapeze artist called “Ehrich, the Prince of Air.” In 1891, he pursued a career as a professional magician, heavily influenced by French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Thus, “Harry Houdini” was born.

Houdini with his “Two Sweethearts,” his mother and his wife. Photo via Amerikai Nepszava

He began as a small-time performer in dime museum and did sideshows, and even became a double for “The Wild Man” in a circus. Among his earliest acts were traditional card tricks, and once, called himself the “King of Cards.” However, it did not take long for him to experiment with escape acts, which eventually he became known for.

Gaining increasing popularity from his escape art as the “Handcuff King,” Houdini accepted challenges to free himself from shackles, handcuffs, ropes, chains, jails, and straitjackets, often as he hanged from a rope for all his audience to see. His escape acts would often begin with a thorough strip search. Another notable act was his escape from a Siberian prison transport van in Moscow.

In the early 1900s, Houdini began entertaining audiences with acts even more daring than his handcuff escapes, due to rising number of imitators. He started escaping from all sorts of outrageous and even insane captive mediums: locked milk cans filled with water, barrel filled with beer, nailed packing crates, mail bags, riveted boilers, and even the belly of a whale that was washed ashore.

The Chinese Water Torture Cell. Photo via Wikipedia

In 1912, the master magician introduced what was perhaps his most notable act: the Chinese Water Torture Cell. This extreme escape act involved Houdini suspending upside-down then lowered into a glass tank full to overflowing with water. The restraint that holds his ankles is locked afterwards to the top of the cell.

Despite his life-threatening career, it was not any his daring acts that led to his demise. On October 24, 1926, he passed away due to peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. According to speculations, it was caused by surprise multiple blows to Houdini’s abdomen, which a university student delivered before the magician could prepare himself to avoid serious injury.

Now, in celebration of the master illusionist’s birthday, let’s take a look at some more of the photographs that detail his fascinating career:

Photos via Biographies Written for Students, Harry Houdini Museum on See by Seeing, The Curated Object, Magic Tricks, and Stuff Nobody Cares About.

written by plasticpopsicle on 2012-03-24 in #lifestyle #harry-houdini #escape-artist #magician #illusionist #lomography #analogue-lifestyle #today-in-history

More Interesting Articles

  • Breathtaking Photographs of India from the Late 19th Century

    written by chooolss on 2014-11-06 in #lifestyle
    Breathtaking Photographs of India from the Late 19th Century

    Take a step back in time and see some of the most amazing views in India through these vintage photographs taken more than a century ago.

  • The Lomo LC-A Goes to Vienna

    written by Andreas Bischoff on 2015-02-06 in #world #locations
    The Lomo LC-A Goes to Vienna

    Vienna is the capital and largest city of Austria. It has been mentioned in a myriad of pop culture references in books, music, and film, and is also the home of the Lomography headquarters. The history of Vienna stretches back to a far 500 BC, which is why it’s no surprise that the city is steeped in rich, unique, and fascinating culture and history that has inspired artists of all generations.

  • Lomography's Little Lessons: Film Speed

    written by jennifer_pos on 2015-05-19 in #gear #tipster
    Lomography's Little Lessons: Film Speed

    Sometime between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, a boy in northern Afghanistan was born with a gene mutation that hindered his eyes from producing melanin and thus from turning brown. He had blue eyes. If you see someone with blue eyes today, he is a descendant of this unlucky fellow. I am one of those weird folks and apart from feeling like a mutant and being Angelina Jolie’s secret sister, I am sensitive to light like an ISO 6,400 film.

  • Shop News

    the perfect surprise for every analogue loving enthusiast

     the perfect surprise for every analogue loving enthusiast

    Let your loved one pick the gift of their dreams. Lomography Online Shop Gift Certificates are the perfect present for every analogue devotee on your gift list

  • 'Aniki-Bòbò': A Tribute to Manoel De Oliveira

    written by sirio174 on 2015-04-08 in #world #lifestyle
    'Aniki-Bòbò': A Tribute to Manoel De Oliveira

    This article is a tribute to the great Portuguese film director Manoel de Oliveira, who died last April 2. With an old Praktica loaded with a roll of black and white film, I captured so enthusiastically his city Oporto (Porto) with its famous Ribeira district, the most characteristic of the Lusitanian town. It was here that more than 70 years ago, Manoel De Oliveira created a timeless masterpiece: "Aniki-Bòbò"!

  • LomoAmigos: The Ting Tings Go Analogue!

    written by hannah_brown on 2014-09-09 in #people #lomoamigos
    LomoAmigos: The Ting Tings Go Analogue!

    The Ting Tings are a musical duo from Manchester who have more pop hits than you can shake a stick at. They are most famous for their 2008 hit "That's Not My Name" which got even the stiffest of people shaking in their seats. The Ting Tings are back with a brand new album called Super Critical. They are big film fanatics (check out their website for proof) so we gave them a Sprocket Rocket Camera and a bunch of film to document their life in sunny IBIZA.

  • Win Tickets for Melt! Festival in Germany

    written by petit_loir on 2015-06-29 in #world #competitions #videos
    Win Tickets for Melt! Festival in Germany

    There is nothing more refreshing than escaping one's everyday life for to unpack a camping tent and spend a wonderful weekend with friends for a few days during summer. Some of the coolest festivals are calling and there's a special one in Germany that is a must-see in July: Melt! festival. Win two tickets for this spectacular event to be held from July 17 to 19. Show us your most beautiful festival moments.

  • Shop News

    Give your space a facelift with your own analogue print

    Give your space a facelift with your own analogue print

    Really want to bring your film photos to life? We’re now offering totally analogue fine art prints in a host of large sizes and formats! Carefully enlarged from your negatives onto premium photographic paper by lab professionals, each picture is a unique piece of craftsmanship.

  • Fascinating Photographs of the Denishawn Dancers

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-06-03 in #world #lifestyle
    Fascinating Photographs of the Denishawn Dancers

    Much of modern dance as it is today owes a lot to Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, husband and wife who founded the famous school and dance company, the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts in 1915 Los Angeles, California. At first solo artists, St. Denis and Shawn began collaborating a year prior on dances often described as exotic and sensual, at times even erotic.

  • 4 Years in Paradise: Living and Learning in French Polynesia

    written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2015-02-04 in #world #locations
    4 Years in Paradise: Living and Learning in French Polynesia

    People seek extraordinary experiences while traveling, but not everyone gets to have an adventure of a lifetime. When lomographer Stephane Heinz (popularly known as vicuna in the Lomography community) saw the opportunity, he took the chance to travel and live miles away from his hometown in France. He and his wife, Kathi, came back home with a luggage full of valuable experiences and life lessons. Vicuna tells us about his four-year adventure in French Polynesia in this travel special.

  • Q0_0p is our LomoHome of the Day!

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-08-28 in #world
    Q0_0p is our LomoHome of the Day!

    From everyone here in Lomography, congratulations to q0_0p for winning Home of the Day!

  • Shop News

    Fisheye One Pearl Blue

    Fisheye One Pearl Blue

    Snap dazzling 35mm fisheye shots at the push of a button with this shimmery blue lightweight beauty.

  • Abstract Visions and Phantasmic Monochromes by Ian Llewelyn

    written by hannah_brown on 2015-08-28 in #people #lomoamigos
    Abstract Visions and Phantasmic Monochromes by Ian Llewelyn

    As a wildlife cameraman and photographer, Ian Llewellyn has worked on a number of television projects. The UK-based lensman breaks free from the strict confines of his profession by engaging in monochrome photography. His personal work is a plethora of abstract and experimental imagery, created in a style distinctly his own. Llewellyn is an ardent user of a Leica Monochrom camera, on which he mounted the Lomo LC-A Minitar-1 Lens, producing the most imaginative, phantasmic results.

  • Summer Hotspots: My Holiday in a Camping Beach

    written by sirio174 on 2015-08-28 in #world #lifestyle
    Summer Hotspots: My Holiday in a Camping Beach

    Last month, I went to a camping site lined by stretches of water and surrounded by a pine forest. I had vast spaces for leisure as there were only a handful people about.

  • Photo of the Day by lomomowlem

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-08-28 in #world #news
    Photo of the Day by lomomowlem

    A miniature airplane landing on a swan? With double exposure, anything is possible!