Harry Houdin's Life

by: Zoe Farrell

Main

Born

March 24, 1874

Harry Houdini is born in Budapest, Hungary as Erik Weisz

Moving

July 3, 1878

Erik and his family move to Wisconsin. They change their last name from Weisz to Wiess. Erik turned into Ehrich

First Show

1883

Ehrich and his friend held a Smalls penny-circus in his backyard. Ehrich stars as "Ehrich, Prince of The Air" the trapeze artist.

Another Move

1887

Ehrich and his father, Rabbi Wiess move to New York. They are later joined by the rest of his family

A Team

1891

Ehrich teams up with Jacob Hyman, a friend from his job at a neckwear cutting firm, in a magic act they call "The Brothers Houdini." Ehrich, known as Ehrie, starts calling himself "Harry Houdini."

Family Loss

1892

Rabbi Weiss dies on October 5 at the age of 63.

The Pairs First Performance

1893

The Brothers Houdini perform on the Midway at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Marriage

1893

Jacob Hyman leaves The Brothers Houdini and is replaced briefly by Harry's brother Theodore, or Dash. That summer, Harry meets fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, and after a three-week courtship Harry and eighteen-year-old "Bess" are married. Bess replaces Dash, and the act becomes known simply as "The Houdinis."

Metamorphosis

1895

The Houdinis achieve some success with their signature number, "The Metamorphosis," in which they trade places in a locked trunk. Harry also begins experimenting with public handcuff escapes, including exhibitions for police and reporters.

Frustrated

1898

Harry and Bess return to New York to live with his mother. By the end of the year, a frustrated Houdini is considering leaving show business, and mails out a sixteen-page catalogue for "Harry Houdini's School of Magic."

The Big Break

1899

After struggling for six years, Houdini catches his big break. Theater manager Martin Beck sees his handcuff act in St. Paul, and wires several days later: "You can open Omaha March 26 sixty dollars, will see act probably make you proposition for all next season." Within months, Beck has Houdini in demand at top vaudeville houses across the country.

England

1900

"The King of Handcuffs" sets sail for England, hoping to meet with as much success in Europe as he had enjoyed over the last year in America. He would spend the bulk of the next five years overseas, becoming a truly international star.
In September, Houdini is stripped naked before three hundred German policemen in Berlin and escapes in six minutes. The consummate publicist, he was soon advertising himself as "the only artist in the history of Europe to whom the German police have given the Imperial certificates."

Outdone

1902

In Cologne, Germany, Houdini brings a slander suit against a local newspaper and a police officer who accused him of bribery and fraud. He won the case, but only by showing the court some of his escape methods.
A body builder named Hodgson responds to Houdini’s open challenge in Blackburn, England. The hour and forty minute struggle to free himself from the irons completely exhausts Houdini, who is covered in bloody welts by the end of the evening.

Special Handcuffs

1904

Houdini performs his legendary "Mirror Cuff" escape at the London Hippodrome. It had taken a Birmingham blacksmith five years to build the cuffs, which featured an impossible-to-pick set of nesting Bramah locks. The challenge is big news in the press for weeks. After an hour-long struggle, Houdini emerges free from the cuffs and is carried away in triumph by the adoring crowd.

Home Base

1905

Houdini buys a seven acre farm in Stamford, Connecticut and an elegant brownstone in fashionable Harlem. His mother, sister, and two brothers move into the brownstone, which would serve as Houdini’s home base for years.

Bridge Jump

1907

The first of Houdini’s "manacled bridge jumps" is captured on film in Rochester, New York. After the jump, Houdini proudly writes in his diary, "Ma saw me jump!"

Failure Means a Drowning Death

1908

Houdini begins performing his celebrated milk can escape. Ever the master showman, he reminds the audience in his ads that "Failure Means a Drowning Death."
Houdini publishes his controversial book, "The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin."

Magic in The Air

1910

Houdini makes the first "real" flight on the continent of Australia, piloting his Voison on a sustained flight of three and a half minutes.

Chinese Water Torture

1912

Houdini performs his underwater box escape in New York's East River before a huge crowd. "Scientific American" magazine pronounces it "one of the most remarkable tricks ever performed."

In September, Houdini debuts his famous Chinese Water Torture Cell escape at the Circus Busch in Berlin.

The Worst Death

1913

Houdini legally changes his name from Ehrich Weiss to Harry Houdini.
On July 17, Cecilia Weiss dies. Houdini faints upon receiving the news after a performance for the royal family in Sweden.
Sailing back to America, Houdini amazes former President Theodore Roosevelt with a spiritualist trick on board ship.

Boxing Champ

1915

During a performance at the Los Angeles Orpheum, Houdini argues with celebrated world heavyweight boxing champ Jess Willard, who had refused his invitation to join the committee on stage. After Willard insults him, Houdini wins the crowd with his retort, "I will be Harry Houdini when you are not the heavyweight champion of the world."

Movie

1918

In the longest run of his career -- lasting nineteen weeks -- Houdini stars in the patriotic extravaganza "Cheer Up" at the New York Hippodrome. The highlights of his act are the vanishing elephant trick and an indoor version of his underwater box escape.
Houdini is involved in a romantic affair with Charmian London, the widow of writer Jack London, who had died in 1916.
Houdini makes his first motion picture -- the fifteen episode serial "The Master Mystery." Despite his wooden acting, audiences are thrilled by his stunts and he becomes an even bigger international star.

Production Company

1922

The 1920 edition of Funk & Wagnall's dictionary includes the verb "hou-di-nize," meaning "to release or extricate oneself from (confinement, bonds, or the like), as by wriggling out."
Houdini forms his own production company, the Houdini Picture Corporation. Houdini starts writing "The Man from Beyond," which would premiere in 1922.

Séance

1922

Vacationing with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family in Atlantic City, Houdini attends a séance with Lady Doyle, who claims to channel automatic-writing from Houdini’s mother. Houdini is not convinced, and the incident marks the beginning of the end of his friendship with the world-famous author and leading proponent of Spiritualism.

Margery

1924

In July, Houdini has his first sittings with the celebrated Boston medium Mina Crandon, aka "Margery." Houdini, convinced Margery is a fake, feuds with her and more sympathetic colleagues on the "Scientific American" panel charged with evaluating her gifts. The case receives wide coverage in the press.

His Final Days

October 31, 1926

Houdini dies in Detroit on Halloween, from complications of appendicitis. Several days earlier, he had been struck in the stomach by a student in his dressing room, then refused to cancel his shows until it was too late. His death triggers mourning and tributes around the world.