And the answer: Harry Houdini.
Born as Eric Weisz in Hungary in 1874, Harry Houdini is widely known as the father of modern magic. Revered for incredible illusionary acts and daring escape stunts, he awed the world by escaping from handcuffs and straight jackets, being buried alive, and much more. Harry "Handcuff" Houdini died on October 31, 1926.
This famous magician once said: “my brain is the key that sets my mind free.” Houdini was the most famous magician in his lifetime, and arguably the most well-known magician in history. Yet, Houdini’s beginnings were far less glamorous. After immigrating to the United States in the late 1800s, his family struggled to find work and uprooted their lives several times in the process. In 1887, Houdini’s father moved his family to New York City, where they lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. Around that time, Houdini was already working (even though he was just nine years old!). He took several jobs, making his public début as a nine-year-old trapeze artist and calling himself "Ehrich, the Prince of the Air".
Eventually, he started experimenting with escape acts, where he would be forced to free himself from a seemingly impossible situation in front of an audience. His career took off, and soon he was touring the top vaudeville theaters in America. Houdini’s ability to free himself from handcuffs earned him the nickname “The Handcuff King.”
As time went on, Houdini began to up the ante of his tricks by performing handcuff escapes underwater. By 1907, his wealth and fame had grown enough to allow him to add new escape acts to his shows. Houdini retired the handcuff trick in 1908, but continued to force himself into difficult and unique scenarios—including a “suspended straitjacket” escape. The magician used this as a promotional tool, as thousands could watch him be hoisted by a crane hanging upside down in a straight jacket before making his glorious escape.
Houdini’s memory lives on in his impressive showmanship and clever magic tricks, emulated by magicians across the globe today.
Learn more about Houdini’s life and legacy here.