Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Houdini's copper Milk Can?

In the Houdini Collections at the Harry Ransom Center there is a thick file of letters written to Houdini by Montraville M. Wood. Wood was a Chicago inventor and associate of Thomas Edison who worked with Houdini on his Milk Can escape and other effects.

One letter offers up a surprise and a new mystery. It appears that Wood was making Houdini a COPPER Milk Can. On Sept. 10, 1909 Wood writes to Houdini saying:

I have received fifty from the Doctor and have placed the order for the Copper Can; but owing to the small sheets of copper (being tinned on one side) which is carried in stock, it will be necessary to have two seams in the body part of the can instead of one.
This whole can will be tin plated on the inside, so it will be perfectly safe, and it will be copper polished on the outside. I cannot say any particular time this will be done; but I am rushing it as fast as I can.

Wood goes on to say that the hasps would be brass and the can's collar would be 1/2" higher than Houdini's regular cans. He also says staples on the collar would be removable.

Unfortunately, there is no other correspondence related to this particular can, so I don't know if Wood ever delivered his copper can to Houdini. But the idea is a good one. So if anyone ever encounters a copper Milk Can out there, it just may be Houdini's!

Want more? You can read M.M. Wood's full letter as a member of my Patreon by clicking below.

Thanks as always to Eric Colleary and the Harry Ranson Center.



  1. A staple is the metal loop that the padlock goes through, after the hasp is placed over it.

  2. A copper can may not have shown up well on stage. Houdini was an experienced performer and must have understood the idea of contrast so that the audience could clearly see the props. Or maybe copper was going to be too expensive? It's amazing how much material Kendall got out of the deal with Bess.

    1. I would think copper would look great onstage, especially polished and under lights. Remember he used brass pails for his USD.

    2. Oh forgot about that! Those water pails were indeed brass!

  3. I wonder if a copper milk can would look too propy/showy and bring more suspicion. No one ever saw a copper milk can, although no one ever saw a real milk can big enough for someone to climb into either.

    1. I thought about that too! Harry might have rejected copper because it might have looked too flashy and less menacing than galvanized steel.