Friday, July 24, 2020

First public image of Houdini's Milk Can?

The below appeared in The Pittsburgh Press on March 17, 1908 and offers might be the very first public image of Houdini's Milk Can escape. This is a mere six weeks after he introduced the effect in St. Louis. In fact, Houdini didn't even have a name for it yet, and during this run at the Grand Theater he offered $25 to the anyone who could come up with the best name. (I've found no account of the prize being awarded.)

This illustration pre-dates the famous series of photos Houdini took with the can in June of 1908. Those photos are, incredibly, the only known images of Houdini with his Milk Can. I don't know exactly when Houdini created his famous Milk Can poster.

Below is an ad for Houdini's week in Pittsburgh referencing his "unprecedented and hitherto unknown and unnamed mystery."

UPDATE: Fred Pittella has shared a program from the Columbia Theatre in St. Louis during the first week Houdini presented his Milk Can and it shows he offered the $25 award for the best name during that engagement as well. By the way, it doesn't appear he ever actually found a name. While we call it "the Milk Can" today, Houdini's advertising continued to refer to it only as the "Galvanized Iron Can filled with water and secured by six padlocks."



  1. It seems he also escaped from 4 handcuffs and a pair of leg irons along with the milk can. He didn't completely drop the cuffs. It is incredible that series of photos is all there is. I wonder where they were taken. Outdoors somewhere like Coney Island.

    1. Yeah, I've discovered the cuffs came back in 1908 for some reason.

      I've seen one of those original Milk Can photos identified as being Atlantic City in 1908. While I know he was in Atlantic City in June (he did a pier jump on June 15), I've yet to find which theater.

    2. The photos were taken in Atlantic City? Can't remember if I also saw that reference. They appear to have been taken at a matinee performance in an outdoor event sometime in the summer. HH is in swimming trunks outdoors and it looks sunny.

      That can had two handles. Never saw a surviving HH can with handles. The whereabouts of THAT can is a mystery.

    3. Bill Mullins discovered for us that HH was playing the Young's Pier Theatre in Atlantic City in June 1908.

  2. In the Detroit Free Press of Mar 10, 1908, it is referred to as "a galvanized airtight iron tank similar to a milk can, but sufficiently large to accomodate a man of Houdini's size with considerable squeezing."

    1. Nice catch Bill! And John will have work to do on the Chronology.


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