Even though William Everhart invented hoop rolling and juggling, Howard Nichols took the skill to another level. Born in 1894 in Ashland, Kentucky (USA), Howard started out performing as part of his family’s juggling group, the Nichols-Nelson Troupe.
The group specialized in hoops and diabolos, and often performed on riverboats on the Ohio River at first, before expanding their reach to the vaudeville circuits in the Midwest and Eastern portions of the United States.
Howard Nichols was drafted into the military for World War I and developed a solo act during that time. Nichols developed a skill level previously not attained by a hoop juggler, including juggling seven hoops in the air and adding difficult variations to established rolling tricks (including spinning hoops on his legs). One particular trick of technical difficulty which Nichols performed was a half-shower of four hoops, passing the lower crossing hoop through a slightly larger hoop balanced on his forehead. Even when performing the established tricks of the prop, Howard distinguished himself by his ability to smoothly transition from one trick to the other, where other jugglers had to stop and restart when changing tricks. The following film, Timing is Everything, shows the half-shower trick, as well as a transition from four-hoop juggling straight into four hoops rolled down his back.
Nichols was a headlining act in vaudeville and beyond, and shared a bill with Enrico Rastelli at the Hippodrome in New York City, with both acts receiving standing ovations. Howard traveled to Australia several times, and performed primarily in Europe from 1927 to 1939. He spent much of World War II performing in USO shows.
Howard performed on television often, starting in 1948, and was the headliner of the public show of the International Jugglers’ Association at both their 1950 and 1951 conventions.
He moved to Montreal in 1954 and worked there for several years. In 1958, after a fifty-year career, he finally retired and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Howard Nichols passed away in 1977.
History remembers Howard Nichols as one of the two greatest hoop rolling jugglers of all time, with the other being Bob Bramson. Bob reports that when he was young and didn’t feel like practicing, his father would yell, “You’ll never be as good as Howard Nichols” in order to motivate Bob to work harder.
The Museum of Juggling History has one of Howard Nichols’ hoops on display, which you can see below.
Howard should be remembered as one of the greatest jugglers of all time for his incredible skill with hoops.