Robert Houdin, a French conjurer, born in Blois, Dec. 6, 1805, died there in June, 1871. His father, a watchmaker, gave him a good education at the college of Orleans, and at 18 years of age placed him in a lawyer's office; but having an extraordinary taste for mechanics, his father consented that he should learn watchmaking. While engaged in this occupation, the perusal of works on natural magic and a friendship formed with a travelling conjurer inspired him with an inclination for juggling. Having married, he went to Paris and engaged in his trade. He employed himself for a year in reconstructing a complicated machine, and so overstrained his mind as to lose all mental power for five years. After recovering he devoted himself for some time to making mechanical toys and automata, and at the Paris exhibition of 1844 obtained a medal for several curious figures of this kind. In 1845 he opened a series of exhibitions in juggling which became famous throughout Europe, and in 1848 he performed with great success in England. In 1855, at the great Paris exhibition, he gained the gold medal for his scientific application of electricity to clocks, and shortly after relinquished his exhibition to his brother-in-law Hamilton, retiring with a fortune to Blois. In 1856 the French government, finding that the Arabs in Algeria were frequently stirred up to rebellion by the pretended miracles of their marabouts or priests, invited Houdin to visit that colony, and if possible excel the magicians in their own tricks.
He completely succeeded, passing through several very singular adventures while so doing. In 1857 he published Robert Houdin, sa vie, ses aeuvres, son theatre, and in 1859 his Confidences, which has been translated into English (Philadelphia, 1859). In 1861 he published Les trickeries des Grecs devoiles, exposing the cheats of gamblers.