Harry Houdini Registers for the Draft
Have you come across a World War I draft registration card in your genealogy research? These draft cards can hold a wealth of genealogical information.
In 1917, the United States passed the Selective Service Act, which allowed the government to raise a national army through a nationwide draft. From 1917 – 1918, every male between the ages of 18 – 45 living in the United States were required to sign up for the draft, regardless of citizenship.
The infamous magician Harry Houdini was one of these men.
In 1918, Harry Houdini was living in New York and wowing American audiences with his sensational escape acts. At the age of 44, it was probably unlikely Houdini would be drafted into service.
Nevertheless, the Handcuff King was sure to make his draft card standout, signing his name as Harry Handcuff Houdini.
Further inspection of his draft registration card shows his date of birth as April 6, 1874 and that he was a native born citizen of the U.S. Houdini often claimed that he was born on that date in Appleton, Wisconsin. In actuality, his birth certificate revealed that he was born Ehrich Weiss on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. This illustrates something every genealogist should keep in mind – not all records will have the correct information. It’s important to use other records to verify the information you have discovered. You never know if there was an error or if someone deliberately recorded the wrong information.
Harry Houdini’s WWI draft registration card (click to zoom)
If we examine his registration draft card further, we find that it actually contains a great deal of information about his life. His address in 1918 was 278 W. 113th St. New York City, New York. He lived there with his wife Beatrice Houdini. Bess, as she was known to many, was also Harry’s stage assistant.
The backside of his registration card gives his physical description: medium height and build, blue eyes and black hair. Lastly, these cards ask the registrant to list if he had lost an arm, leg, hand or eye or if he is obviously physically disqualified. Houdini wrote in, “weak left hand.”
Have you found World War I draft registration cards in your genealogy research? What new information did they reveal for you?