Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin

Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin

French magician
Date of Birth: 07.12.1805
Country: France

Biography of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin

Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, the French magician and 'father' of modern stage magic, was born in Blois, France. His father, Prosper Robert, was one of the best clockmakers in the city and worked hard to provide a decent living for his family. From a young age, Jean showed a unique talent and incredible work ethic. However, his father had hoped that Jean would become a respected member of society, such as a lawyer. Despite his father's wishes, Jean's true passion lay in clockmaking.

At the age of 11, Jean was sent to school by his father, located 35 miles away from their hometown, at the University of Orleans. He successfully completed his education at the age of 18 and returned to Blois. His father wanted him to pursue a career in law, but Jean was more drawn to the work of a clockmaker. He managed to secure a position as a clerk in a local chef's office due to his excellent handwriting. However, Jean preferred to tinker with mechanical devices instead of studying law. Eventually, he lost his job and confessed to his father that he wanted to become a clockmaker. By that time, Prosper had retired, so Jean became an apprentice to his cousin, who ran a family clock shop. He quickly became an independent clockmaker.

In the mid-1820s, Jean saved enough money to purchase a two-volume work on clocks by Ferdinand Berthoud. However, he was mistakenly given a two-volume set of "Scientific Amusements," which discussed the art of performing magic tricks. Instead of returning the books, Jean's curiosity got the better of him. Soon, he realized that he had found his new calling. Although the books did not contain any profound revelations, they sparked Jean's interest, leading him to start exploring magic on his own. He sought lessons from a local magician named Maous from Blois, who taught him various useful skills, including juggling. Jean's natural dexterity and precision improved even further with regular practice. Magic remained a hobby for Jean, as he earned a living as a clockmaker. After some time, he moved to Tours.

Much of Jean's biography is based on his own memoirs, which some analysts doubt for their accuracy. Nevertheless, he began performing as part of an amateur acting troupe and further honed his professional skills by entertaining at high society parties. It was at one of these events that he met Josephine Cecile Houdin, the daughter of Jacques Francois Houdin, a Parisian clockmaker. They quickly fell in love and got married on July 8, 1830. Jean added his wife's surname to his own, becoming Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. They moved to Paris, where Jean found work in his father-in-law's shop. Jacques Francois was one of the last clockmakers practicing the traditional handmade methods, and he admired Jean's passion for fine mechanics. Jean primarily focused on creating mechanical toys and wind-up figurines. His wife gave birth to eight children, although five of them died at a young age.

Jean did not abandon his interest in magic; on the contrary, he discovered a magic store in Paris by chance. Here, he established useful connections and learned many tricks of the trade. Jean began creating new types of mechanical toys such as singing birds and miniature tightrope walkers. One of his best creations was an automaton that could write and draw, capturing the attention of King Louis Philippe. In 1843, after a prolonged illness, Jean's wife passed away, leaving him with three children. To alleviate his circumstances, he remarried, and his second wife took charge of the household.

While continuing to perform at private parties and designing complex devices for advanced magic tricks, Jean dreamed of having his own theater. With the help of Count de l'Escalopier, who hired Jean for a series of parties and paid him 15,000 francs, his dream became a reality. Jean rented several rooms in the royal palace and converted them into a theater. On July 3, 1845, he held his first performance, which initially faced difficulties. After receiving encouragement from a friend, Jean gathered the courage to continue his performances.

Gradually, Jean became accustomed to the stage, and critics began giving increasingly positive reviews of his shows. His mechanical toys were compared to the works of renowned magicians such as Philippe and Bosco. However, the theater's income was unstable, especially during the summer months. Nevertheless, Jean persevered, eventually capturing the interest of the entire city. His renovated theater was illuminated solely by electricity and boasted a range of unprecedented mechanical devices.

Leaving his career as a magician behind, Jean decided to pursue inventions, and his experiments with electricity were far ahead of their time. In 1856, Louis-Napoleon asked Robert-Houdin to travel to Algeria to help pacify the local tribes. Jean successfully completed the mission and gave his final performance in Marseille before returning home to Saint-Gervais, where he focused on writing his memoirs.

On August 6, 1870, Jean learned that his son had been fatally wounded in the Battle of Worth. The death of his son had a profound impact on the aging magician, and he passed away on June 13, 1871.