They say “necessity is the mother of invention,” and magic performance certainly necessitates many things.
Audiences must think that an illusion stems from a person, not the devices or props they use. So, if someone wants to disappear, a device must be invented that makes little noise, is easy to conceal, will not be observable from the seats, can completely bring the subject to another area or cover their entire body, and so on. Any time these conditions are violated, it destroys the illusion.
These extreme demands naturally require inventiveness, and that is why many magicians are also inventors and sometimes vice-versa. So, let us examine this phenomenon further and briefly cover the history of famous magician inventors from the industrial revolution to the current days of mentalism in Miami.
The Godfather of Stage Magic
Historians consider Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, for whom Houdini later took his stage name, to be the originator of large-scale stage illusions. Before him, most magicians — then known as “conjurers” — performed simple sleight-of-hand tricks.
Not content with ball-and-cup tricks or disappearing coins, Robert-Houdin used his background in watchmaking to create impressive, supernatural-appearing illusions that had a grounding in cutting-edge science.
One such illusion actually served to help his native country of France. In 1856, France faced problems in their Algerian colony from marabout rebels. Marabout leaders used magical illusions to convince followers that they had divinely-granted powers. Robert-Houdin counteracted this influence by demonstrating France’s own “magical” prowess.
His trick involved a wooden box with a hidden metal plate on the bottom. Underneath where he placed the box, he installed an electromagnetic plate that would strongly attract the box to the floor. By turning on and off the electromagnetic force, Robert-Houdin could lift the box with ease while the marabouts were completely unable to budge it.
This illusion convinced marabouts that French colonialists had hidden strengths of supernatural origin. Considering electricity was still in its experimental stages at this time, Robert-Houdin’s achievement remains impressive to this day.
Other Inventor Magicians
● Harry Houdini invented many devices related to his escape artist performances, including a metal diving suit that could easily be escaped from in an emergency
● Alfred Carlton Gilbert was an Olympic gold medal-winning pole vaulter and inventor of the Erector set. He financed his Yale education with magic performances.
● P.T. Selbit was a famous magician who invented devices that pioneered illusions like sawing a woman in half
● If you ever find yourself fidgeting at a concert because you don’t have enough money for the pay toilet, thank Victorian magician and inventor John Nevil Maskelyne
Combining Invention and Skill in Mentalism in Miami
Mio is a world-class magician who studies up on the latest technology and techniques but also relies on good old-fashioned skill and dexterity — both mental and physical.
Take a look at his mentalism in Miami performances to see how he makes the most of the latter by visiting our videos page.