Ever hear the one about Harry Houdini and Fleischmann’s Yeast? Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it? But it's not. Houdini's family connection to Fleischmann’s Yeast is something Patrick Culliton has always talked about. But when I was at the Harry Ransom Center last year, I finally heard it from Houdini himself.
In a letter dated June 8, 1925 to Albert Davis of 351 Bridge Street in Brooklyn, Houdini writes:
I noticed you live on Bridge Street. Many years ago my uncle, Simon Newman, he brought compressed yeast into this country and he taught the older Fleischman the business, in fact Fleischman was only one of a number of helpers and managed to get financing – my uncle having refused to form a corporation. His place was at 28 Jay Street and many a happy swim I had off the J Street Dock. By the way, the Fleischman people paid my uncle $200. a month all the rest of his life after having practically put him out of business and some how or other I attribute it has conscience money. Will tell you the whole story in person.It seems strange to hear that an unknown man brought compressed yeast to this country but he sold it for years and is now entirely forgotten.
Fleischmann’s Yeast is still around today. Unsurprisingly, the official company history doesn't mention Houdini's Uncle Newman. I'm also excited to learn the location of swimming spot for young Ehrich Weiss. Any Brooklyn residents want to try and track down the Jay Street Dock?
Now let's work out the rest of that joke.
Want more? You can see and read the entire original letter as a Scholar member of my Patreon.