Harry Houdini 1899

The Challenge:
Name a Famous Locksmith Who is Not More Famous for Something Else

While I wait for your nominations, I will point out that King Louis XVI of France had outstanding skills as a locksmith. However, his legacy as the last king of France, (and the only one to have been executed), outweighs his reputation for having a passion for locks.

Linus Yale, Jr., is more famous for his patents of pin tumbler and bank locks, than he is for his locksmith skills.

Harry Houdini, born in 1874, was a Hungarian-American magician and escapologist, stunt performer, actor and film producer. He was an expert lock picker who captivated audiences with his skills.

Houdini became widely known as “The Handcuff King.” He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators and a dwindling audience, Houdini put his “handcuff act” behind him and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded his challenge escape act ā€” in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him ā€” to include nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into the water), riveted boilers, wet-sheets, mailbags, and even the belly of a Whale that washed ashore in Boston. Brewers challenged Houdini to escape from his milk can after they filled it with beer. Many of these challenges were prearranged with local merchants in what is certainly one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing. Rather than promote the idea that he was assisted by spirits, as others did, Houdini’s advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, although Houdini himself never claimed to have supernatural powers.

In 1912, Houdini introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water. The act required that Houdini hold his breath for more than three minutes. Houdini performed the escape for the rest of his career. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Torture Cell, the escape had nothing to do with his death.

On October 31, 1926, Harry Houdini died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, at the age of 52. At least he died on Halloween! Still not good enough for Hollywood, I guess.

Yes, Houdini was a famous lock picker. But famous locksmith? Iā€™m afraid not.

So far, there are no nominees.

(Much of the information for this blog came from Wikipedia.)