Friday, June 2, 2023

Houdini takes the lid off Fleischmann’s Yeast

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.


  1. Oh, you are stirring up some serious goon warfare:

    1. Great stuff! Thanks David. I didn't remember these posts.

  2. More on Newman vs. Fleischmann:

  3. As to what might have been: After Fleischmann bought out Newman, it became the cornerstone business in what is now known as Standard Brands, a Fortune 500 company! Also, Raoul Fleischmann and his family wealth became the original backers of The New Yorker magazine!

  4. Thanks for the links David! You were off the radar for a while there.

  5. Jay St dock would seem to be at the end of Jay St, almost under the Manhattan Bridge:,-73.9853032,355m/data=!3m1!1e3?entry=ttu

    Looking at old maps (1891:, it seems the pier was offset a bit to the right of the street; I believe it was used as part of the landfill that made the land for the present ConEd substation. There are still cleats on the top of the "wall".

    To the left is John St Park, on a protrusion that also occurs on old maps and which may have been a more natural bank a hundred years ago. Looks like as good a place for a swim as any in the area.

    28 Jay St seems to have disappeared under a block-sized 11-story building with the address of 20 Jay St. Harry may have seen it, as that building was completed in 1912, probably as a factory or warehouse. It's now a mixed use conversion:

    351 Bridge St is now probably under a large tower at 365 Bridge St. Now the BellTel Lofts building, it was built in 1929 as the headquarter office of the New York Telephone Company, later Bell Telephone.