A Timeline of Magic and Magicians
from the 19th and 20th Centuries
and Magic Periodicals

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The Magician Timeline (top) contains events while the Magic Periodicals (bottom) contains events.

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1800 1850 1900 1950 2000

Magic and Magicians Compiler's Observations by David Alexander

When I wrote the authorized biography of Gene Roddenberry I organized a timeline as my principle device for organizing his history. This allowed me to put the events in his life in perspective and discover correspondences that would not have ordinarily been visible otherwise. It gave me a better idea of his life in context.

Of course, history does not happen in linear time, it happens “all at once,” with people’s lives often influenced by, and intersecting with, others. A timeline is a convenient way to infer or discover some of these influences. This timeline is not meant to be definitive and doubtless others may build on this work later. All of the facts have been taken from recognized works on their subjects and are presumed accurate. The primary problem in any history of magic and magicians is the propensity of the subjects to shamelessly inflate their vitae. Thus we have Kellar performing for Queen Victoria who is probably not in residence at the time he says he performs for her; Robert-Houdin inventing magic teachers to add romance to his early magic education (who would want to admit they’d learned the rudiments of their craft from a podiatrist?) and so on. We have listed what we believe to be the most accurate information. History is an art and sometimes the artist’s tools are not as good as we would want. Corrections are always welcome.

I have organized the listing as follows: those listings for which I have only the year and not a specific month or day put at the beginning of each year’s division with the more specific dates – month and then month and day - listed in descending order.

This is meant to be more an “aerial view” of magic history and is necessarily extremely selective. As Milbourne Christopher notes in The Illustrated History of Magic, between the 1890s and the 1930s more than four thousand magicians played on vaudeville stages. It would be impossible to list them all. For details I suggest you pick up any of the books listed in the bibliography which will give far more specificity than possible in a project like this. The compiler assumes reader familiarity with magic history and the names of the major players, hence brevity of details.

While the Internet provides a great many sources because of the impermanent nature of websites I have taken as little as possible from that resource.

Although I will mention books from time to time, this compilation is not meant to be a anything like a bibliography. Others have compiled bibliographies of conjuring books and to them I direct you for detailed information.

Many of the individuals noted in this timeline will appear to be doing things at what appears to be an amazingly early age from our perspective of the early 21st Century. It should be noted that the idea of “adolescence” is relatively modern, roughly paralleling the development of the upper and especially the middle class and the ability of more families to send their children to secondary education, thus extending childhood into “adolescence.” There is also the urbanization of our culture where children were not needed to help bring in the harvest over the summer and the enlightened view that child labor is not something to be socially countenanced. Thus a ten-year-old Harry Kellar running away from home and getting work in 1859 was not unusual for his time any more than were girls of 13 and 14 getting married and having children.

It should also be noted that for much of the time covered in this project there was very little public entertainment compared with today. There was no television, radio, or films. Mostly, if you wanted entertainment you made it yourself. So when an entertainer came to town as Kellar and Thurston and many, many others did, it was an event. Like many of today’s more popular films, the show would be attended more than once. Ozzie Malini, Max Malini’s son once told me that when his father showed up in some foreign land, every European for miles around would make their way to the hotel where Malini was staying just for the novelty of seeing a new face. That Malini could entertain with his wonderful stories and magic was a great bonus they were happy to pay for.

Anything framed by brackets [ ] are the observations of the compiler.

I begin the Timeline with the birth of the individual most responsible for the modernization of Magic: Robert-Houdin and end it, not at the exact end of the 20th Century, but at a place I feel is most appropriate.

David Alexander
Garden Grove, California
2002

Sources:

Timeline is a DHTML-based AJAXy widget for visualizing time-based events. It is like Google Maps for time-based information.