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

Updated: Jan 10

Have you ever wondered what the world's oldest magic organization is?


Magic has existed for thousands of years, and 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 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 worldwide, 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. 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 had SYM Assemblies worldwide to promote the interest in magic as a hobby.


Join an organization like the SAM has many benefits, including monthly publication, online learning opportunities, live and virtual lectures, networking, convention and magic contests.


Let’s 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 of the SAM


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.


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, 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 constitution's first draft and designed the emblem and seal.


Early support from famous magicians


Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston, and 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 he died in 1926.


Since its founding, the Society of American Magician's membership has exceeded 45,000 worldwide.



 

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)


Five Goals of SAM

  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 Members

The Society of American Magicians is a magical society with a rich history, and it's one that's been filled with some of the most famous magicians in the world. Some are household names, and others have faded into obscurity over time. But all these men and women have been instrumental in shaping the art of magic as we know it today.


Famous Society of American Magician Members

  • Harry Houdini

  • Harry Blackstone Sr & Jr

  • Gay Blackstone

  • Kellar

  • David Copperfield

  • Siegfried & Roy

  • Mat Franco

  • Mac King

 

Notable Past SAM 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 organization's early years, 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, a 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.



 

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 finances to support the Society's early endeavours and boost membership.


However, Houdini's relationship with the Society of American Magicians wasn't always cordial; in the founding years, there was a tiff.


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 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 an ongoing public feud with The Sphinx editor, Dr. A. M. Wilson. Wilson vowed never to 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 serve as National SAM President five years later.


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 most significant 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.


Houdini served as SAM President 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 at the exact time of his death, October 31 at 1:26 pm.


 

The first Six 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.


The Society of American Magicians formed an Exposure Committee 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 the 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."


 

National Magic Week


October 25 - 31 was established as National Magic Week in 1967 by the Society of American Magicians and had 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.

The Society of American Magicians designates National Magic Week celebrations 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. Magicians across North America organized several celebrations without any official mandate.


Chicago SAM member Les Sholty 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, hosted “Magic Day” organized by Parent Assembly 1 and featured a tribute to magician Mark Wilson.


 

Annual Magic Convention & Contest


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


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


2021 Magic Convention & COVID-19 Cancellation


Due to the global pandemic COVID19, the 2020 and 2021 S.A.M. Magic Conventions were postponed. The organization hosted its first convention after the pandemic in January 2022 in 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 in 2012 and 2003.


Registration is now open for the four days of magic 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).


 

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). 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 Six North American Member Societies of FISM:

  1. Academy of Magical Arts (Magic Castle)

  2. Canadian Association of Magicians (CAM)

  3. Club De Magie Du Québec

  4. International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM)

  5. Society of American Magicians (SAM)

  6. Texas Association of Magicians (TAOM)


 

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 - Magicians 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

2020-2021 Joel Zaritsky



 

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


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.

"Lifetime members 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!”\

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


 

Why Join the Society of American Magicians 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.


 

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:



Social Media for S.A.M.


Additional Sources:

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