The Society of American Jugglers – An Attempt at a Pre-IJA Juggling Organization

The IJA was formed in 1947 at a convention of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Much has been written about how this came about, but almost no one realizes that an earlier attempt was made to form a juggling organization more than twenty-five years earlier.

In 1918, the following appeared in Variety.

I’ve been unable to find any additional information on what this is in reference to. It’s unclear if the above is in regards to a show, an organization, or something else.

The next piece of the puzzle comes from The Billboard on April 3rd, 1920.

Let’s take a look at the jugglers mentioned at this meeting. Harry Otto was a juggler who is now best remembered for his disastrous performance on You Asked For It in 1953, which you can see below.

Next was William De Armo, who was quite a talented juggler, as you can see below.

Next was Archie Onri. Archie Onri was a well-known juggler of the vaudeville era, specializing in devil stick.

 

1906

1910

Finally, we have the Ben and Billie Mowatt, who performed together as the Two New Yorkers. Ben was the first juggler to ever juggle five clubs. You can learn more about the Mowatts by clicking here. Below is a video of Ben and Billie, published here for the first time. Billie is dressed as Charlie Chaplin and Ben is doing the club swinging and club juggling. Thanks to Bobby Jule for providing the video, which he filmed himself.

On Dec. 11, 1920, the following appeared in The Billboard.

On January 1, 1921, Archie Onri started writing a column in The Billboard about jugglers and juggling. Here, he called for the formation of a society of jugglers.

Note that Onri’s column refers to a discussion three years prior, which would match the Variety posting. Nevertheless, there was an attempt in 1921 by Archie Onri to form a society of jugglers.

A follow-up column by Onri on January 8th, 1921, again put forth the notion of forming a juggling organization, which he called the Society of American Jugglers.

The next Jugglers and Juggling column by Archie Onri appeared on January 29, 1921.

The following appeared in The Billboard on February 5th, 1921.

Following this proclamation of great interest, it appears that nothing more happened. I can’t find any additional columns by Onri and no other mentions of the Society of American Jugglers. The idea must have fallen by the wayside until 26 years later, when the IJA was formed.

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite discoveries I’ve made as a juggling historian. To think that we have all lived under the impression that there was no attempt to organize jugglers prior to 1947, when this was not the case at all.

 

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 sixteen books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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