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Houdini Biography: Harry Houdini Magician-Escape Artist

Harry Houdini: The most famous magician of all time.

Houdini's actual name.

Houdini's actual name was Ehrich Weiss.

Houdini moves to New York City at the age of 13.

Young Ehrich traveled the country for about a year, always sending money home when he could. Finally he joined up with his father in New York City. His father would die about five years later on October 5, 1892, The move to New York would change his life and introduce him to the world of big time magic. The family moved to New York in the the hope of finding a better life there. In New York, Houdini worked as a messenger and as a cutter in a garment center sweat shop, Richter & Sons, a tie factory to help support his family. He was very athletic and won awards in swimming and track. He would use this athletic and swimming talents to great use in his future as an escape artist.

How Houdini gets his name.

Houdini began performing magic as a teenager first calling himself Eric the Great. Always a reader, two books would change his life. He read, as a teen ager in New York, "Revelations of a Spirit Meduim" by A. Medium, which exposed the tricks of phony psychics, who after being tied up would secretly release themselves to make ghostly things happen in darkened rooms. The second book was "The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin," the autobiography of one of the greatest magicians of the day. Influenced by what he read and learned about the internationally known magician Robert Houdin, young Ehrich changed his name to Houdini, hoping to be in some way like his new found mentor.

Houdini's early shows.

Houdini's first magic shows consisted of card tricks and other simple magic. Houdini early on called himself "The King Of Cards."

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Large repro available from souvenir page
Soon Houdini began experimenting with hand cuffs and using them in his acts. Houdini performed with another young man who worked with him in the tie factory in New York. They called themselves the Houdini Brothers. Soon Houdini's younger brother Theo took the place of the boy from the factory. Houdini's father died when Houdini was a teenager. Together with his brother Theo, they tried to succeed as the Houdini Brothers. Their first performances included shows at amusement parks, beer halls, "dime museums," and at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.

Houdini meets his life long love.

In 1894, Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, who was singing and dancing as part of the Floral Sisters. They were working Coney Island at the time.

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After knowing each other only two weeks they were married in the month of July. Bess, as she was called, worked and traveled with Houdini and helped by singing, dancing, and performing the Metamorphosis exchange which Houdini invented.

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Large repro available from souvenir page
Bess took Theo's place in the act that would now be called "The Houdini's". He then travels throughout the United States and then the world for the next thirty three years. Needless to say he leaves mom behind again proving his independence from his mother, though he did love her greatly. His early travels take him to North East Pennsylvania where the Houdini Museum is now located, for 2 seasons with the Welch Brothers Circus which traveled throughout Northeast Pennsylvania. He would return in later years to the Scranton area as a major star, and present several unique challenges. His brother Hardeen would also appear in the area as well.

Houdini invents the challenge escape act. The concept of the escape artist is born.

Houdini began offering rewards to anyone who could successfully restrain him, first in handcuffs and later in all manner of objects. Houdini escaped from handcuffs, leg irons, straightjackets, jails and prison cells, a mail pouch, packing crates, a giant paper bag (without tearing the paper), a giant football, an iron boiler, milk cans, coffins, and the famousWater Torture Cell. In most of these escapes, upon later examination, there was never a sign of how Houdini accomplished the release, that added to the miracle. Some of Houdini's escapes, such as the Straight Jacket or being tied with a hundred feet of rope, Houdini would do in full view of the audience. To help draw crowds and sell tickets, Houdini would do escape challenges, often at police stations with newspaper reporters present, assuring a headline story.

Houdini is discovered.

Martin Beck, Vaudeville's most important booking agent caught Houdini's act in 1899 and was impressed with his dynamic personality and booked him as a "challenge escape artist," a new form of entertainment. Martin Beck booked the Orpheum circuit, the largest chain of vaudeville theaters in the country and booked all of the stars of vaudeville. He had a trained eye for talent. He immediately placed Houdini in big time vaudeville as a supporting act. Houdini soon began to headline in several theaters throughout the country. Houdini having invented a new form of entertainment, "The Challenge Escape" soon would become an international star.

Houdini as "King of Handcuffs" goes to Europe at the age of 26.

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Large repro available from souvenir page
After some success in the United States Houdini decided to go to Europe in the year 1900, on the advice of a friend, the greatest coin magician of all time, T. Nelson Downs. Houdini created a sensation in London, England and went on to travel throughout Europe for five years as a headliner. Houdini had so much work in Europe that he summoned his brother Theo to work there under the name Hardeen.

1874 -1887
1887 - 1900
1900 - 1913
1913 - 1926 and beyond.

Go to Houdini Museum .


© 1989-2003 by The Houdini Museum. Except for reviews, no part of any of this document may be reproduced in any form, without written permission by the authors. The graphics have been retouched, computer enhanced and resized by the authors.

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