The Truth About Harry Houdini's Real Name

Harry Houdini is often the first name that pops up when people start discussing the world of stage magicians. He was one of the most popular performers of any kind in the early 20th century, performing daring escapes and mind-boggling illusions for audiences around the world, as PBS reports.

While he's remembered for his acumen as a stage magician, Houdini had other interests and accomplishments. According to The Great Harry Houdini, he appeared in movies and was even the first person to fly a plane on the Australian continent. He would also embark on a successful career debunking psychics and mediums. He even testified before Congress that the methods used by mediums and psychics were fraudulent, as the Smithsonian Magazine notes.

Harry Houdini's death was recorded on Halloween 1926, and his name has gone on to become virtually synonymous with magic. What many people may not realize was that Houdini was a stage name.

Erich Weiss takes a stage name to honor his idol

According to Britannica, Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874. When he was young, his family moved to the United States and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin before eventually relocating to New York City in 1882. Around this time, the spelling of his family's name was changed to Weiss while Erik was switched to Erich. Young Weiss had the nickname  "Ehrie," which was similar to "Harry", as History notes. 

He was a performer from a young age, working as a trapeze artist before moving to vaudeville stages. As time went on, he developed a fascination with magic. One of his favorite magicians was a Frenchman named Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Erich "Harry" Weiss added an "i" you Houdin's last name, as a sign of respect to his major influence, and thus the stage name Harry Houdini was born. 

The name Houdini would go on to overshadow Houdin in the eyes of magic fans around the world long after he died, in 1926. The cause of his death, at the age of 52, was officially a burst appendix. However, as may be fitting to the master of mystery, there is some debate as to the true nature of his demise with some arguing that a group of begrudged spiritualists may have poisoned him (per Biography).