Friday, January 14, 2011

Houdini and his Humber

By his own admission, Houdini was not a fan of driving. He complained he was far too easily distracted to concentrate on the road. Regardless, Houdini bought himself a Humber motor-car in England in 1904. A gift to himself for beating the Mirror cuff maybe?

Check out this fantastic clipping from the London Daily Mirror, courtesy of Marco Pusterla of The Ephemeral Collector, and see how everything "The Handcuff King" did back then was news.

The London Daily Mirror, June 4, 1904

What I really like about this clipping is that it gives us the make of the car, which, as far as I know, has never been identified before. Humber was an English car maker, at one time the second largest manufacturer of cars in the UK. You can see a terrific full shot of the Humber containing Houdini, Bess, Martin Beck, and the Houdinis dog Charlie on page 9 of Houdini Art and Magic. For more information on Humber cars, check out this excellent history of the company.

Speaking of Houdini and automobiles, this curious photo showed up on eBay sometime back in the '90s. Did Houdini really have a car accident in Oakland in 1912? I've not been able to even place him in Oakland in 1912. In fact, his 1915 engagement (in which he played opposite Hardeen) was billed as his "First Time in Oakland." But if this is a real photo, maybe this is what put him off driving.


  1. So, Houdini was an early motorist as well as an early aviator? I think if old Harry was alive today we'd have a hard time keeping him off the space shuttle.

  2. As an antique car collector, I can tell you that the photo was not taken in 1912. The Ford Model T sitting behind the wrecked car is approximately a 1916-1924 model (they all looked very much the same.) Also, the caption on the back of the photo may also mean that Houdini's car was an Oakland model (which was made by Pontiac.) It's hard to tell. Many cars were custom-bodied in those days.

  3. Very true, Raymond!

    Thank you for that info, David. Yeah, just makes this photo all the more dubious.

  4. Interesting - I've always wondered why he wasn't much of a driver. Just figured he probably had too much else going on up top to concentrate. Maybe he also preferred having the down time to think.

  5. I going to have a very exciting follow-up to this article soon. Just got some terrific additional info on Houdini's Humber. :)

  6. Interesting that he felt he was too distracted to drive. Could be he just had too much on his mind all the time. Or he perhaps the motion of driving affected him, too. We know he had severe motion sickness whenever he was on a ship. Or maybe the awkwardness of driving was too much for him. Maybe he was just born in the wrong era and needed automatic transmission. :p

    I sometimes wonder what sort of disorders, disabilities, phobias or syndromes we know about today that Houdini might have suffered from. Then again, is it even appropriate to take modern-day medical diagnoses and try to apply them to an historical figure like Houdini?