We've all heard the term "magic," but what is it? A formal definition goes like this: Magic is the performance of illusions to entertain, baffle, and amaze! Learn the brief history of how magic became a widespread modern phenomenon.
Magic is an ancient art, but it has not remained the same. In the mid-1800s, Jean Eugene Robert Houdin was the first magician to perform his tricks in front of an audience and gain prestige among the wealthy class. The late 19th century brought on celebrity magicians and the introduction of technology. Now, magicians have had to adapt their ancient strict code of ethics for television and modern times.
Let's learn a brief history of magic.
Brief History of Magic
The purpose of magic is to give the illusion that the impossible or supernatural has been achieved. The impossible becomes a reality!
Although magic deals with the illusion of the supernatural, no ghostly beings or entities have any part in a magic act. Truly entertaining magic is always done by a skilled performer who knows how to use natural means to create the impression that something next to impossible has been done.
Early magic was frequently used for cheating in gambling games such as cards or in times of war, like the Trojan Horse. But during the 18th century, magic became less of a series of seemingly pointless deceptions and more of a respectable activity done by professional illusionists.
Images of magicians are depicted on the ancient Pyramids in Egypt. It's believed to be one of the world's oldest artforms!
Jean Eugene Robert Houdin did the earliest recorded modern practice of magic tricks in the mid-1800s. Many consider Houdin the father of modern magic. Houdin, originally a trained clock worker, switched to practicing magic when he opened a magic theatre in Paris in the 1840s. Houdini's unique magic trick of the time was creating small mechanical pieces that seemed to move and act as if they were alive.
Watch: BBC History of Magic
After that, the popularity of magic continued to grow. In 1873 two men, British performer J. N. Maskelyne and his partner Cooke established their theatre, the Egyptian Hall, in London, England's Piccadilly. The magic tricks these two men were best known for performing were hiding unique mechanisms in their stages to control audiences' points of view. So, the magic was in people and items suddenly disappearing and reappearing or being distorted in some way.
The late 19th century brought on celebrity magic and celebrity magicians. This was the time of the world-famous Harry Houdini, whose real name was Erich Weiss. Houdini's magic tricks were based on the ability to escape impossible situations. Today this term is referred to as escapology.
Today magic seems to be flourishing with popularity! Magic is vogue again. (Strike a magic pose) Professional magicians have been forced to adapt their ancient strict code of ethics for modern times. For example, those who perform on television don't use camera tricks and videotape editing to create the illusion of powerful magic. Magic workers today use only traditional forms of magic. This means they use the same magic conditions for television as they would for a live magic show.
WATCH: History of Magic in 10 Minutes
We hope you've enjoyed this brief history of magic and magicians. As you can see, the art of magic has been around for thousands of years, but it's only recently that it has become a mainstream form of entertainment.
It's no surprise that magicians have had to adapt to changing times, but we hope that this brief history has helped you understand the many ways in which magic has evolved over time.
What did you learn from this brief history of magic? Let us know in the comments.
Do you know a youngster who is interested in magic? Download our Magic Festival Activity Book for free. (PS: there's even a Houdini colouring page!)