Harry Houdini, born as Erik Weisz, is undoubtedly one of the most legendary magicians in history. His spectacular escape acts in particular have brought him worldwide fame. In this article, we present a number of fun facts about the life of Harry Houdini.

He chose his name in honor of another magician

He was born as Erik Weisz, but his name was changed to Ehrich Weiss after his family’s emigration from Hungary to Wisconsin when he was four years old. Young Ehrich, nicknamed “Ehrie” or “Harry,” had a fascination for magic, particularly for the work of the famous French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin.

When he began his own career in magic in the 1890s, he honored his hero by adding an “i” to the name “Houdin,” thereby creating the stage pseudonym “Harry Houdini.” In a strange twist, Houdini later accused his former idol of having stolen tricks from other magicians and called him a fraudster in his book “The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin” from 1908.

The “king of handcuffs”


As a young magician, Houdini struggled to really break through in show business and considered quitting to open a school of magic. His big break came in 1899, when vaudeville impresario Martin Beck booked him for a tour through the United States and Europe. On Beck’s advice, Houdini made escapes a central part of his act.

He challenged audiences to tie him up or handcuff him, and promoted his shows by escaping from local jails. This routine was a huge success, and Houdini quickly became known as the “King of Handcuffs,” with sold-out shows across Europe and later in the United States.

His brother was also a successful magician

houdini brother

After establishing himself in Europe, Houdini brought over his younger brother Theo, a magician who had been his partner in his early career. Theo soon began performing his brother’s tricks under the stage name “Hardeen.” The brothers even created a fake rivalry to increase their stature.

Although Hardeen was largely overshadowed by his more famous brother, he is now credited with the act of escaping from a straitjacket in full view of the audience, a trick that became a staple of Houdini’s repertoire.

A true marketer


Harry Houdini was not only a master of escapes and illusions, but also in the art of publicity. He understood the importance of media attention for the success of his shows and career. Houdini often used spectacular stunts to attract attention.

For example, he had himself buried under the ground or locked in a milk can full of water, purely to make the headlines. These stunts were often announced well in advance, drawing large crowds and boosting ticket sales. His ability to play the media is seen by many as a crucial part of his legend.

His most famous acts

The Milk Can Escape: In this act, Houdini escaped from a sealed, water-filled milk can after being locked inside. The danger of drowning added an extra layer of suspense and thrill to the escape, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

The Chinese Water Torture Cell: Perhaps Houdini’s most famous escape act, in which he was locked upside down in a water-filled glass and steel cell. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, Houdini managed to escape every time, to the amazement of his audience.

The Metamorphosis: In this rapid escape, Houdini swapped places with his assistant, usually his wife Bess, while both were locked in trunks and bound in various ways.

The Straitjacket Escape: Houdini often performed this escape publicly, sometimes even while hanging from a building or a crane, freeing himself from a straitjacket.

The Bridge Jump:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_HHFMSmHCQ In this daring stunt, Houdini, handcuffed and sometimes weighted, would drop into a river or other body of water from a bridge, then emerge without the shackles. These acts attracted large crowds and generated a lot of publicity.

The Overboard Box Escape: Houdini was locked inside a crate, which was then thrown into a river or harbor. Despite the seemingly impossible circumstances, Houdini managed to escape and resurface.

Houdini once escaped from the belly of a “sea monster”

In September 1911, a group of businessmen from Boston challenged Houdini to perform the most bizarre stunt of his career: escaping from the belly of a 680 kilo “sea monster” that had washed ashore in the city’s harbor.

giant sea monster

What exactly the ‘monster’ was remains unclear to this day. What is clear is that Houdini accepted the challenge. In front of thousands of spectators, he allowed himself to be shackled, chained, and pushed into the stinking carcass, from which he triumphantly emerged within 15 minutes.

An aviation pioneer

After developing a passion for aviation in Europe, Houdini purchased a French-made Voisin biplane and became one of the world’s first private pilots. Despite crashing during his first flight in Germany, he continued to practice and eventually became the first man to fly a plane in Australia. During a tour in March 1910, Houdini made three successful flights near Melbourne.

Although some historians dispute that he was the first, Houdini and another, Colin Defries, were both honored with stamps commemorating a century of powered flight in Australia in 2010.

Houdini helped the Americans during WWI

Despite being born in Hungary, Houdini was an American patriot and a fervent supporter of American involvement in World War I. He canceled his touring season to dedicate himself to entertaining soldiers and raising money for the war effort.

Houdini also applied his arsenal of magic tricks to give special instructions to American troops, teaching them how to escape from sinking ships and free themselves from ropes, handcuffs, and other restraints in case of capture by the Germans.

Houdini had his own film studio

Houdini’s brief career as a silent film star began with “The Master Mystery” in 1919, an adventure series in which he played an undercover agent who used his escape skills to thwart criminal plots.

Later, the magician starred in two more feature films before launching his own studio, the “Houdini Picture Corporation.” He produced two films for the company, but neither was particularly successful at the box office, leading Houdini to leave the film industry for good in 1923.

Houdini exposed psychic mediums

As the world’s greatest magician, Houdini had little patience for anyone who claimed to possess supernatural powers. From the 1920s, he began a second career as a professional skeptic and debunker of psychic mediums, clairvoyants, and other “spiritualists” who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead.

Houdini tirelessly campaigned, often visiting séances in disguise to expose their leaders as fraudsters, and offered a reward of $10,000 to anyone who could present “physical phenomena” that could not be rationally explained.

The mysterious death of Houdini

Harry Houdini’s death on October 31, 1926, is shrouded in mystery and speculation, making it a fitting final chapter for the life of a man who built his career on escaping the seemingly inescapable. Houdini died at Grace Hospital in Detroit from peritonitis, an inflammation of the peritoneum, caused by a ruptured appendix. However, what makes his death particularly intriguing are the events that preceded it.

Popular legend tells that Houdini’s death was indirectly the result of an incident a few days earlier in Montreal. While preparing in his dressing room, he was approached by a student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who asked if it was true that Houdini could withstand blows to his stomach without being harmed—a claim Houdini indeed had made. Before Houdini could fully prepare or consent, Whitehead struck him multiple times in the abdomen. Though Houdini initially seemed to dismiss the discomfort, his pain and symptoms increased in the following days.

Houdini refused to seek medical help despite persistent pain and symptoms of a serious medical condition. By the time he finally went to the hospital, his appendix had already ruptured, leading to a fatal infection. Some theories suggest that the blows Houdini received may have exacerbated an existing appendicitis or caused the appendix to rupture, while other sources claim that his death was purely coincidental, and the appendix would have burst anyway.

Menno, from the Netherlands, is an expert in unearthing fascinating facts and unraveling knowledge. At Top10HQ, he delves into the depths of various subjects, from science to history, bringing readers well-researched and intriguing insights.

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