Listen to any conversation with at least one magician long enough and you will probably hear something how magic was used to stop a war. The art of magic today is mainly used as entertainment. But there was a time, when a magician and watchmaker named Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin was called upon for a magical mission by none other than Napoleon himself.
5 Unbelievable Facts about Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin
1) He Wasn't Just A Magician
Robert-Houdin was the child of a watchmaker father who died when Houdin was very young. His father always dreamed that his son would be a lawyer, but Jean Robert decided to follow in the footsteps of his late father and be a watchmaker. His knowledge of complex watch mechanisms is what gave him the skills to build automatons, non-electric task completing machines. One of these machines which is also a famous magic trick, the Orange Tree, was featured in the Illusionist movie. The trick is too amazing to describe, so a video of Magician Paul Daniels doing a similar effect is below.2) His Work is RARE
The Mystery Clock is a trick invented by Houdin. If you can an ultra-rare mystery clock, you are looking at tens of thousands of dollars (according to the latest internet auctions). Each one is a slightly different, beautifully hand crafted clock with no visible workings. How the clock works is a mystery, and a closely guarded secret, even today. The clocks, typically made from brass and glass are rare, collectable and highly sought after.
3) Harry Houdini Borrowed His Name
Houdin was the inspiration for the man who would become the most famous magician in history Harry Houdini. From a young age Houdini considered Houdin a hero, ever since he read his biography in 1980, describing his mystical adventures. He named himself “Houdini” in homage to the magician, thinking of adding an “i” meant “like houdin”. Later in his life he wrote the book “The unmasking of Robert Houdin” which he notably regretted writing. In the book he accused Houdin of being a thief and a fraud stealing many of his magic illusions from other magicians.
4) He Knew the Greatest Showman
Houdin was a contemporary of the great P.T. Barnum aka the "Greatest Showman". Houdin even met Barnum at the world exhibition in Paris, where Houdin’s writing desk automaton was being featured. The wind up android would apparently write and draw different images based on the question being asked. Barnum took an interest in the desk on the spot and purchased it, where it sat on display in London. He later sent it to NYC where it was put on display, and later destroyed in the fire that destroyed Barnum’s museum in 1865.
5) The French Government DID Need His Help
Houdin didn't actually stop a war per se, however he was called upon by Napoleon Bonaparte to perform magic in what we would call a “wizard battle” today. The french government dispatched him to Algeria. The french were fighting Algerian warriors called the “Marabouts”, who believed that they were invincible due to the illusions that their chieftains would perform. Illusions like halting the fire from a french rifle. Houdin essentially challenged the Algerians by putting on a demonstration where he asked a strong Algerian man to lift a wooden chest. When they tried to lift it a second time, it was impossible. Apparently this was because Houdin “robbed them of their strength”. In reality it was electromagnetism and a newly invented magic illusion now referred to as the “light heavy chest”. The stage demonstration helped to lower the morale of the Marabouts and their presence gradually diminished in the area. Not exactly stopping a war, but very influential.
The Father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin was an inventor, an artist, a magician and so much more. One of the greatest magicians of all time whose legacy is slightly shrouded in the modern age. In terms of legendary magicians, Houdin is on the top of our list. Houdini is often referred to as America’s First Superhero. If that is the case Houdin is like the First Avenger, who was so great, he was called to [help] end a war.
Written By RJ Lynch:
RJ is the director of the Houdini Museum and fantasia magic. RJ is a magician, ted speaker and writer currently based in New York City.