Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz on March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Hungary, and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1878. After settling in Appleton, Wis., a young “Ehrie” (Harry) moved with his father, a rabbi, to New York City.
The young man was burdened with numerous jobs to help support his family, but he still found the time to make his debut as a trapeze artist. In 1891, he took the stage name “Harry Houdini,” inspired by his admiration for magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.
His first successful stage trick wasn’t an escape trick—it was the needle trick. He would swallow several needles and some thread, and then regurgitate them with all the needles threaded.
Harry Houdini died on Halloween in 1926, apparently from injuries sustained during a performance when a college student repeatedly punched him in the stomach, testing his abdominal strength. But an autopsy was never performed and mysteries surround the performer’s death.
By his own admission, Harry’s greatest escape was when he left Appleton, Wisconsin.
This is an image of Harry Houdini taken in 1899. It is now part of the McManus-Young Collection of the United States Library of Congress.