S.A.M. The World's Oldest Magic Organization

It's no secret that magicians have secrets. It's our industry. Like other trades and crafts, magicians have societies dedicated to advancing the art of magic, connecting like-minded magicians, and sharing industry trade-secrets.


Society of American Magicians Logo
The Society of American Magicians is World's Oldest Magic Organization

The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) is the world's oldest magic organization. It was founded on May 10, 1902, in the back room of Martinka's Magic Store in New York City and now has over 5000 members that meet in 300 branches (called Assemblies) around the world. Annual dues for a SAM membership range from $55- $79 USD annually. The Society of American Magicians is one of the five North American Member Societies of the World Championship of Magic (FISM)


The Society of American Magicians represents members around the world including some of the most famous magicians in history, like David Copperfield, Lance Burton, and Mat Franco. Notable names like Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston and Dr. Harlan Tarbell served as SAM National President.


The official publication for the SAM has changed many times over the Society’s 115+ year history. M-U-M Magazine has been the Society of American Magicians official periodical since 1951 and the first newsletter was published with the acronym M-U-M due to a misunderstanding by the printer. The intended title was “Magic Unity Might” from the Society's motto


"Those who love Magic will, through Unity, gain Might."


In addition to a monthly publication, the Society of American Magicians hosts an annual convention and magic contests. Magicians can compete in both close-up and stage competitions. Winning magicians earn cash prizes and endorsements by the Society to advance to Nationals and the World Championship level.


The SAM has a program dedicated entirely to magic's youth, aged 7 to 17 called the Society of Young Magicians. The Society of Young Magicians was established in July 1984 and has SYM Assemblies throughout the world for the purpose of promoting the interest in magic as a hobby.


There are many benefits to joining an organization like the SAM, including their monthly publication, online learning opportunities, live and virtual lectures, networking, convention and magic contests. Let’s take a look at the World’s Oldest Magic Organization, the Society of American Magicians.


Here’s a quick link to the topics covered in this article:


Brief history

The Society of American Magicians was founded on May 10, 1902, in the back room of Martinka's magic store in New York City.


Martinka's Palace of Magic was opened in the late 1800s by The Martinka brothers, Antonio and Francis. The 6th Avenue magic shop became a popular hang-out for some of the biggest names in magic. It even had a stage in the backroom where only "initiates" were allowed inside.


It was in "the little back room" of Martinka's Palace of Magic a decision was made to establish the Society of American Magicians.


On April 26, 1902, a group of 13 magicians met to discuss the by-laws, constitution and the Society's purpose. Within a week 23 magicians had joined to help and on May 10th the Society of American Magicians was formed with the following mandate:


"To promote harmony among those interested in magic, and to further the elevation of the art."


Dues in 1902 were set at $2, payable in advance.


First Member & First President of SAM

Dr. Saram Ellison is the first member of S.A.M. and Dr. W. Golden Mortimer became the second member. Dr. Mortimer would become the first President of S.A.M. He created the first draft of the constitution, designed the emblem and seal.


Early support from famous magicians

Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston, Harry Kellar and among the long list of early influential magicians who contributed their time, energy and personal finance to support the organization. The most famous, Harry Houdini, served nine consecutive terms as SAM President from 1917 until his death in 1926.


Since its founding, the Society of American Magician's membership exceeds 45,000 members around the world.



SAM’s Mission & Goals


"It is the mission of The Society of American Magicians to promote an environment for the worldwide magic community that fosters fellowship, preservation of the magical arts, ethical standards, education, and personal growth." (Source)


The 5 Goals of S.A.M.

  1. Improve program and member services

  2. Provide opportunities to learn magic

  3. Provide leadership

  4. Establish standards of ethics

  5. Preserve and honor the history of magic and magicians

Famous S.A.M. Members

  • Harry Houdini

  • Harry Blackstone Sr & Jr

  • Gay Blackstone

  • Kellar

  • David Copperfield

  • Siegfried & Roy

  • Mat Franco

  • Mac King

Notable Past S.A.M. Presidents

The Society of American Magicians has many recognizable names who served as National President. Typically, modern-day SAM Presidents serve a one-year term but in the early years of the organization, it was common for Presidents to serve multi-year terms.


Over its history, the Society of American Magicians has had many famous magicians serve as SAM National Presiden, including Harry Houdini, famed escapologist who served from 1917 - 1926, Howard Thurston, an acclaimed stage magician who served from 1927 - 1929 and Dr. Harlan Tarbell renowned teacher of magic who authored the Tarbell Course in Magic served from 1949 - 50.


Houdini's brother, Theodore Hardeen also served as the Society's National President from 1929 - 1930 and so did Houdini's Lawyer, Bernard M.L. Ernst. Ernst was elected following Houdini's death.


"Thurston the Great, Magician, 'The Wonder Show of the Universe'" by Halloween HJB is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


President Houdini

Houdini's influence on the Society of American Magicians was enumerable. Harry Houdini was a champion for the SAM who often used his own finances to support the Society's early endeavors and boost membership.


However, Houdini's relationship with the Society of American Magicians wasn't always cordial and in the founding years, there was a tiff. In fact, Houdini resigned from the organization for several years before returning as an Honorary Member and eventually National SAM President.


Houdini resigns

In 1906, Houdini started his own magazine called Conjuror's Monthly. He wanted to establish this publication as SAM's official magazine but was defeated by The Sphinx.


In 1908, Harry Houdini resigned from the SAM out of protest and ongoing public feud with The Sphinx editor, Dr. A. M. Wilson. Wilson vowed to never publish Houdini’s name in his magazine:


“I will never again mention his name in The Sphinx, no matter how great the provocation."


The two magicians eventually healed their divisions, "I apologized to Houdini; he made amends," said Dr. A.M. Wilson, stating, "Now we are friends, as we should have been years ago."


A yearly subscription to Houdini's Conjurer's Monthly cost $1 and the magazine ran from September 1906 to August 1908. Harry Houdini would return to the Society of American Magicians six years later, in 1912 as an Honorary Member and five years later serve as National SAM President.


Recommended: “The saga of Houdini and Dr. A. M. Wilson” https://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2016/08/the-saga-of-houdini-and-sphinx.html


Portrait of Harry and Bess Houdini
Harry and Bess Houdini (Source: Library of Congress)

Harry Houdini becomes President

In 1917, Houdini became the National President of the Society of American Magicians. During his first year of Presidency, Harry Houdini would embark on one of the largest magic club recruitment efforts in SAM history. He set out to inaugurate groups of magicians in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Toledo.


Houdini's sudden death

Harry Houdini served nine-consecutive terms as the President of the Society of American Magicians until his sudden death on October 31, 1926. He served from 1917 - 1926.


Houdini's Lawyer and amateur magician, Bernard M.L. Ernst was elected Society of American Magician President following Houdini's passing. Every year a Broken Wand Ceremony is performed at Houdini's grave on the exact time of his death, October 31 at 1:26 pm.


The first 6 Assemblies of the Society of American Magicians

  1. New York City, NY - Parent Assembly

  2. San Francisco, CA - Golden Gate Assembly

  3. Chicago, IL - Werner F. Dornfield Assembly

  4. Philadelphia, PA -

  5. Detroit, NY

  6. Baltimore, MD


Fighting magic exposure

Throughout the 1920's many large magazines and newspapers began producing content that exposed magic. An Exposure Committee was formed by the Society of American Magicians with Servais Le Roy as its chairman. Le Roy proposed changes to the SAM constitution regarding "Easy Pocket Tricks," a term coined by Thurston.


Houdini gained a large amount of publicity by condemning exposure of magic tricks and in 1921, he authored an open letter to editors which stated:


"Noting the epidemic of exposures in the various scientific and daily papers, might I call your attention to the fact that by so doing you are taking away the bread and butter of honest, hard working, ambitious magicians."

Source: https://geniimagazine.com/wiki/index.php/Timeline_of_magic_exposures




National Magic Week

October 25 - 31 was established as National Magic Week in 1967 by the Society of American Magicians and has origins dating back to Houdini's death. It's a tradition that continues today and National Magic Week has received Proclamations in Alaska, Washington and New York City by Mayor Bloomberg.

New York City Mayor National Magic Week Proclamation
New York City Mayor National Magic Week Proclamation

“It is no illusion that New Yorkers are some of the most generous people in the world. This week’s events are a wonderful opportunity to recognize the talented and dedicated magicians who lend a helping hand" - Mayor Bloomberg


National Magic Week celebrations are designated by the Society of American Magicians as a time to celebrate and share the art of magic. Magicians and SAM Assemblies are encouraged to offer free magic performances for the less fortunate, including VA Hospitals, senior citizen groups, and daycare centres.


From Houdini Day to National Magic Day

Colorized photo of Harry Houdini performing magic for children in a hospital
Colorized photo of Harry Houdini performing magic for children in a hospital

The summer following Harry Houdini's death, Ms. Bess Houdini declared "Houdini Day" to honor the life and legacy of her late husband. Several celebrations were organized by magicians across North America without any official mandate.


It was Chicago SAM member Les Sholty who sought official sanction for a "Houdini Day" and permission from Mrs. Houdini to proclaim October 31 as "National Magic Day."


On July 20, 1938, the eighth oldest radio station in the United States, known then as KQW, broadcasting from California became the first radio station to air details with Mrs. Bess Houdini about National Magic Day.


From National Magic Day to National Magic Week

National Magic Week became an official function of the Society of American Magicians in 1967. The efforts were heavily influenced in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair who hosted “Magic Day” organized by Parent Assembly 1 and featured tribute to magician Mark Wilson.


Annual Magic Convention & Contest

The Society of American Magicians presents an annual convention in a different host city each year. The multi-day convention is typically held in July and features lectures, dealers, stage performances, close-up shows, and magic contests.


It is not required to be a member of the Society of American Magicians to attend SAM magic conventions, however, members receive early discounts and incentives for registration.


2020 Magic Convention & COVID-19 Cancellation

Due to the global pandemic COVID19, both the 2020 and 2021 S.A.M. Magic Conventions have been postponed until 2022. The organization has opened registration for its January 2022 convention return to Las Vegas.


2022 SAM Convention

Logo of the Society of American Magicians 2022 Magic Convention in Las Vegas
SAM Magic Convention 2022 returns to Las Vegas

The S.A.M 2022 Convention will return to Las Vegas in January 2022. The previous conventions in Las Vegas were 2012 and 2003.


Registration is now open for the four days of magic happening at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas Hotel & Casino including magic, lectures, dealers, contests and Mac King Banquet & Roast.


Interest levels at magician conventions vary from hobbyist to professional and some magicians attend solely to compete among their peers. The Society of American Magicians hosts stage and close-up magic competitions. Winners receive cash prizes and may be encouraged to compete at the National Championships of Magic (FISM NA).


For registration to the 2020 S.A.M Convention visit: https://samconvention.com/las-vegas-2022/registration/



World Championship of Magic (FISM) Member Society

The Society of American Magicians is one of five North American member societies of FISM NA and the World Championship of Magic (FISM). In order for a magician to compete at the World Championship level and earn the title of “World Champion” they must compete and win nationally.


Here are the 5 North American Member Societies of FISM:

  1. Academy of Magical Arts (Magic Castle)

  2. Canadian Association of Magicians

  3. Club De Magie Du Québec

  4. International Brotherhood of Magicians

  5. Society of American Magicians

How North American magicians compete at the World Championships of Magic (FISM)

Magicians must first win the North American Championships of Magic (FISM NA) before they can enter the World Championship competition:

  1. National Contest - Magician must compete and win a place against contestants at the FISM NA qualifying contest.

  2. World Championship Contest - Once a magician wins at the FISM NA national competition level they received an endorsement to represent North America at the World Championships of Magic (FISM) The highest award a magician can earn is the coveted “FISM Grand Prix World Champion”

Current S.A.M. President

The 2020-2021 president of the Society of American Magicians is Joel Zaritsky.


List of past 20 years of S.A.M. Presidents

See the full listing of Society of American Magicians Presidents here


2000-2001 Jann Goodsell

2001-2002 Warren Kaps

2002-2003 Ed Thomas*

2003-2004 Jay Gorham

2004-2005 John W. Apperson

2005-2006 Rich Dooley

2006-2007 Andy Dallas

2007-2008 Maria Ibanez

2008-2009 Bruce Kalver

2009-2010 Mike Miller

2010-2011 Mark Weidhaas

2011-2012 Vinny Grosso

2012-2013 Christopher Bontjes

2013-2014 Dal Sanders

2014-2015 Kenrick Ice McDonald

2015-2016 David Bowers

2016-2017 Jeff Sikora

2017-2018 Dick Bowman

2018-2019 Ron Ishimaru

2019-2020 Steven Spence


Publications

The Society of American Magicians has embraced several publications in its history.


In September 1902, the first column for the Society of American Magicians was distributed in a publication called Mahanta. Mahanta was an existing monthly magic periodical printed at Martinka’s where the SAM was founded. Two months later the SAM also adopted The Sphinx magazine for western magicians and in 1909 The Sphinx became the SAM “Official Organ.”


In October 1911, the first M-U-M monthly print magazine was published and since 1951, the Society of American Magician’s official publication is M-U-M Magazine.


Timeline of S.A.M Magazines

1902 - 1906 Mahatma - First Official Column of the Society

1906 - 1911 The Sphinx

1911 - 1927 M-U-M Newsletter 1927 - 1942 The Sphinx

1942 - 1947 Genii Magazine

1947 - 1951 The Sphinx

1951 - Present M-U-M Magazine


M-U-M is a monthly magazine now offered digitally for members. Members can pay an additional fee for printed editions of M-U-M on the SAM website.


Magic store

Members can support the S.A.M by becoming a member and also by purchasing official Society of American Magicians merchandise such as clothing, accessories, insignias and previous M-U-M Magazines.


You can visit the SAM store here: https://www.magicsam.com/store/


Life Membership

"Lifmbers enjoy the special feeling in their hearts that they have done something real to help the S.A.M. and the advancement of the art of magic!”


The only criteria for Life Membership enrollment is a good standing with the Society of American Magicians. A single contribution of $1500 or more payable for a solo member or $2500 with a spouse.


Life Members include David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Seigfried and over 400 others.


Why join a magician's organization?

There are many reasons a magician should join an organization like the Society of American Magicians including:

  • Learn the art of magic - acclaimed opportunities to learn and share magic

  • A Community of Magicians - Join an assembly of like-minded individuals who share your passion for the art of magic

  • Interact with some of the biggest stars of magic - SAM offers multiple platforms to engage, interact and ask your questions to some of the biggest minds in magic

  • Use the Logo: proudly show the world you're a member of the SAM

  • Exclusive Society of American Magicians International Assembly Facebook Group

  • Enter Contests - competing and winning a stage or close-up contest can dramatically change a magician's career.

  • Annual S.A.M. Magic Convention - An opportunity to be part of our annual magic convention talent line-up.

  • M-U-M Magazine delivered to your inbox - Receive a copy of the digital magazine (or pay additional for printed copies)

  • Access to exclusive SAM Content - including special Vimeo Showcase


How to join S.A.M.

Are you interested in joining the World's Oldest Magic Organization? Join the Society of American Magicians: https://www.magicsam.com/general/register_member_type.asp?


How to join - International Member


Introducing the International Assembly 272

You don't need to be an American citizen to join. This world-wide-organization openly welcomes members from any country to join its International Assembly 272. Past-Presidents of SAM have been International Assembly 272 members.


Two requirements to join Assembly 272:

  1. You must have a genuine interest in the art of magic

  2. You must be a member of S.A.M.

Virtual Assembly V1.1: How to Join

The SAM Virtual Assembly

In the era of COVID-19 and the 2020 global pandemic, members are encouraged to visit the Virtual Assembly V1.1 for online content, magic instruction and lectures.

https://www.facebook.com/assemblyv11/


How to connect with S.A.M

The Society of American Magician has several ways you can connect and all major social media platforms, you'll find below:


Society of American Magicians (Official) Website

https://magicsam.com/

Society of American Magicians (Convention) Website

https://samconvention.com


Society of Young Magicians Official Website

https://magicsam.com/page/SYMYouthProgram


Parent Assembly #1

http://magicsampa1.com/


Find your local S.A.M. Assembly

https://magicsam.com/search/



Social Media for S.A.M.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheSocietyOfAmericanMagicians/

Facebook (Members Group) https://www.facebook.com/groups/SAMMembers/

Twitter (Main) https://twitter.com/SAMMAGICIANS

Twitter (News) https://twitter.com/sammumnews

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sammagicians

YouTube https://www.youtube.com/



Additional Sources:

IMAGE CREDIT: "Thurston the Great, Magician, 'The Wonder Show of the Universe'" by Halloween HJB is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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