Morris Cronin – Early Juggling Innovator

Morris Cronin is a juggler who is mostly forgotten by history. However, his contributions and innovations still resonate in the art form today.

Morris Cronin was an American juggler of Irish descent, born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. He was considered by most of his peers to be the greatest solo club juggler of the late 1800s. Vaudeville juggler and juggling historian, Tommy Breen, wrote the following: “Cronin was first man to juggle three clubs and shoot club[s] through legs while both feet are on the floor. He was also the first to throw a club back thru legs and catch it while juggling three. Another of his original tricks was juggling three clubs under the arm with one hand behind back. Cronin was a tall man and had long arms so these tricks were easy for him. As he dressed in evening clothes and made an elegant appearance he never did tricks he had to struggle for. Everything had to be done smooth and easy.”

From the above description and other sources, we learn that Morris Cronin apparently invented three of the first “advanced” tricks with three clubs. The “juggle three clubs and shoot club[s] through legs while both feet are on the floor” description correlates to what we now know as Albert Throws or Body Throws. The “He was also the first to throw a club back thru legs and catch it while juggling three” description correlates to Trebla Throws. The “juggling three clubs under the arm with one hand behind back” description correlates to the trick now known as Contortion. Click here to learn more about this trick. The photo below shows me performing this trick in 1987.

Tommy Breen described Morris Cronin as one of the top three club jugglers of the late nineteenth century, along with Ollie Young and Edward Van Wyck. Clever Clonkey, another vaudeville era juggler, described Morris Cronin in 1915 as “acknowledged to be the best single club juggler in every way.”

The other innovation that Morris Cronin is famous for is his invention of the first electrically illuminated juggling club. He patented his invention in 1897. Below is text and a diagram from his patent submission.

“U.S. Patent Office: Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 575,332, Dated January 19, 1897
For Electrically-Illuminated Jugglery Apparatus by Morris Cronin of London, England

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that I, Morris Cronin, a citizen of the United States of America, residing in London, England, have invented new and useful improvements in electrically illuminated jugglery apparatus, of which the following is a specification.

This invention consists in jugglery apparatus containing electric glow-lamps and battery in the interior of a partly-transparent outer envelop or frame, all so constructed that the apparatus can be readily taken to pieces and put together and so that the gas evolved during the performance, together with any acid that might escape from the cells, shall be collected and retained within the apparatus itself. The apparatus may assume various forms, such as a ball, a club, or a wand with a ball or club at each end.”

Morris had previously announced his invention to reporters a couple of years prior to his patent, as you can see in a newspaper clipping below.

The following article about Cronin, from 1894, reveals a bit about his background, including the newly revealed fact that he was trained by Charles Hoey, who was famed for being the first person to juggle four clubs.

Originally, Morris Cronin was a solo juggler, but eventually he formed a troupe known as Morris Cronin and his Merry Men. Francisco Alvarez, in his book Juggling – Its History and Greatest Performers, wrote the following about Cronin and his troupe: “Credit must also be given to Morris Cronin, who was not even one of the first to juggle clubs. However, Cronin’s superb handling of this prop surely represents one of the smoothest transitions from club swinging to club juggling. The handsome Cronin was a very successful vaudevillian who for years presented the act known as “Morris Cronin and his Merry Men.” Incidentally, juggler Max Baresh, who had once worked for Cronin, told me the following story many years later: Baresh had lied to Cronin about his left-handedness because he was anxious to work in such a prestigious act. Cronin made it a practice never to hire a left-handed juggler, but hired Max, thinking he was right-handed. Everything went smoothly for a while. One day, however, during a relaxed moment backstage, Cronin suddenly threw a club to Max. “Catch, Max!” was the command. Max instinctively put up his left hand and caught the club, whereupon he was fired.”

Below is a newly discovered photo of Morris Cronin’s Merry Men, from the archives of the Museum of Juggling History.

1. M. Bayotte. 2. Erwin Willep. 3. Andre Perron. 4. Jack Lewis. 5. Walter Decker 6. Bill Pike 7. Bert Lamont

Reviews of Cronin and his troupe were very flattering. Here are a few such reviews.

“Morris Cronin and his “Merry Men” maneuver about the stage at the Oakland Orpheum this week in a wonderfully clever way.  Cronin is an artist who has gone into an old field and developed a whole lot of new wrinkles in the juggling line where with to entertain his audiences. With his Irish wit and nimble brain he has blended fun and smart juggling until the blend is one to admire.  Everybody in town will be talking about him this week and the result will be that the house will probably be crowded and a lot of people who will want to see Cronin and his merry makers will be disappointed along toward the latter part of the week.”

“I do not as a rule much affect juggling, but the performance of Mr. Morris Cronin, the debonair, and his troupe of jugglers surpasses anything of its kind, and rivets the attention.  The impromptu of those clubs flying from hand to hand and caught as by accident by some member of the troupe who happens to stroll on the stage at the moment that a few of these projectiles are carelessly thrown by Cronin the debonair in that direction is a real triumph over matter. ”

Below is one of the only known photos of Morris Cronin, courtesy of juggling historian Erik Åberg.

As was stated in the 1896 article about him, Cronin’s brother had an interest in selling Indian clubs. The two eventually went into business together selling them. You can see an advertisement for these below.

Morris Cronin passed away from pneumonia in 1916 after twenty-five years on the stage. His wife, the famous English dancer Adeline Genee, carried on some version of his act, as you can see below.

After years of research, I recently located some of Morris Cronin’s props. Here is a photo of me holding two of his enormous, wonderfully unique juggling clubs.

I’m still attempting to acquire these for the Museum of Juggling History. If you have any photos or additional information regarding Morris Cronin, please contact me at davidcainjuggler@hotmail.com. Of special interest would be the two films made of Cronin performing his club juggling, which were made in 1896.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty three books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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