In 1946, Vaudeville juggler Tommy Breen wrote a now well-known article for Roger Montandon’s Jugglers’ Bulletin on “Juggling Firsts,” listing the first jugglers to accomplish various feats, to the best of his considerable knowledge. This list has been an invaluable resource to juggling historians ever since, but it is now 68 years old. Therefore, I’m now endeavoring to compile an updated and modern list that uses resources beyond what Breen had at his disposal. This is not to say that Breen was wrong in his list. On the contrary, without his vast knowledge, much of the information we have of the early development of modern juggling might have been completely lost. Only in one or two cases do I believe that he was misinformed. He also didn’t have a global perspective, which is still a problem today. We have very few names and little information on jugglers from Asia and Africa from the past, but the list reflects the earliest known examples of the skills listed.
The lists that follow in this and future articles in this series contain the best information I’ve been able to obtain through my research. New discoveries are being made every week. Just this morning I found an earlier date for one item on my list and had to change it. I welcome feedback regarding the statements made here and fully expect and hope that new information arises from readers. Besides the Breen list and my own extensive research, the primary other sources I’ve consulted are Roger Montandon’s Jugglers’ Bulletins (read them here), the books of Karl-Heinz Ziethen, and Juggling: Its History and Greatest Performers by Francisco Alvarez (read it here). I’ve also consulted the various IJA publications from throughout its history and many other juggling books. I’ve also discussed and debated things with fellow juggling historian Erik Åberg. While juggling historians may never fully agree on the originator of every trick, I hope that these lists can be a starting point for future research and discussion.
I have decided to not include references to where I found each piece of information in these articles as they are intended for general readership. I hope to include such references when this list is included in a future juggling history book that I plan to publish in a few years. Questions regarding references are welcome. I’ve included the dates of the accomplishments when known and include the symbol ≈ to represent approximate dates. When a juggler’s name is followed by another name in parentheses, this is the juggler’s real / birth name. I’ve also tried to clarify if someone performed the feat (in a show), qualified it, or just flashed it. For many of the early records, we have incomplete information, so I’m stating our best guess. I’ve also decided to organize records by the number of objects juggled, from least to most. Pictures or video of the juggler follow the record listed when available and appropriate. These lists are also not intended to be anywhere close to complete and comprehensive. An almost infinite list of tricks could be added if the proper information was known. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, corrections, and additions for me to consider. I’m especially interested in ring passing firsts and diabolo firsts. Future articles will include firsts with clubs and rings /hoops / miscellaneous juggling firsts. I should also point out that for modern records, I’ve chosen to go with records proven with video evidence. This is not meant to discount the achievements of Peter Bone (13 ball flash), Tony Frebourg (10 ball bounce qualify) and others, but the general agreement in the juggling world is that modern achievements need video evidence or witnesses to count.
JUGGLING FIRSTS WITH BALLS
First to do 5 ball back crosses (overall and in performance) – Rudy Horn (≈1950)
First to qualify 7 ball back crosses in performance – Ty Tojo (2013)
First to juggle 8 balls (multiplex) – Chinko (Thomas Cromwell-Knox) (1896) The following picture shows Chinko doing an 8 ball multiplex in the year 1900. From the collection of Erik Åberg.
First to flash 8 ball backcrosses – Ty Tojo (2013)
First 8 ball 8 up pirouette with full qualifies before and after – David Ferman (2010)
First to juggle 9 balls – Pierre Amoros (1905)
First to flash 10 balls (overall and in performance)– Frank LeDent (1906)
First to qualify 10 balls – Bruce Sarafian (1992) Click here to see video.
First to juggle 10 balls (multiplex) – Chinko (Thomas Cromwell-Knox) (1904)
First to flash 11 balls (overall and in performance) – Frank LeDent (1907) Note that the 1907 newspaper advertisement below, as well as other advertisements from the same period, clearly pointed out that LeDent performed 11 balls.
First to qualify 11 balls – Alex Barron (2012)
First to flash 12 balls – Bruce Sarafian (1996) Click here to see video.
First to flash 13 balls – Alex Barron (2013)
First duo to pass 19 balls (flash) – Luke Burrage and Ben Beever (2008)
First duo to pass 20 balls (flash) – Alex Barron and David Leahy (2010)
First duo to pass 21 balls (flash) – Dan Wood and David Leahy (2014)
JUGGLING FIRSTS WITH BALL BOUNCING
First to perform ball bouncing – L.A. Street (1888)
First ball bouncing team – Roberto and Wilfredo (1890s)
First to bounce juggle 5 balls inverted (overall and in performance) – Bobby May (Ludwig Mayer) (1940)
First to bounce juggle 8 balls (overall and in performance) – Käthi Gültini (1910)
First to do a 7 ball lift bounce into 7 in the air – Eden Zak (2009)
First to force bounce 8 balls (overall and in performance) – Alan Sulc (2004) Click here for video.
First to force bounce 9 balls (flash) – Tim Nolan (2001)
First to force bounce 9 balls (qualify and in performance) – Alan Sulc (2006) Click here for video.
First to lift bounce 10 balls (flash) – Tim Nolan (1988)
First to force bounce 10 balls (flash) – Alan Sulc (2008) Click here for video.
First to qualify a 10 ball lift bounce – Eden Zak (2005) Click here for video.
First to flash an 11 ball lift bounce – Tim Nolan – (2008)
First to force bounce 12 balls (flash) – Alan Sulc – (2008) Click here for video.