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Jacob Philadelphia

Jacob Philadelphia (August 14, 1735 – 1795)

Jacob Philadelphia is notable as the first American-born magician to achieve fame — although he primarily performed abroad. Jacob Meyer was born on August 14, 1735.  Dr. Christopher Witt, the associate of Johannes Kelpius, was chiefly responsible for his education. Meyer’s patron in England was Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn.

When he converted to Christianity, Jacob Meyer took the name of Jacob Philadelphia in homage to the home city of the American scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin. He was also performed by the names Meyer Philadelphia and Philadelphus Philadelphia.

After the death of his patron in 1756, Jacob Philadelphia  began to perform magic in public. He exhibited his skills in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. In 1771, he performed in St. Petersburg for Catherine II of Russia. Also, in Constantinople, he had Sultan Mustapha III as an audience. 1773 found him chasing away ghosts for Kaiser Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. In Potsdam and Berlin, he had difficulty with Friedrich the Great, who was alarmed after Meyer seemingly read his mind, and subsequently banished the magician from Prussia.

Jacob Philadelphia  was an early pioneer of phantasmagoria, a performance magic show with a focus on the appearance of ghostly figures.

Little Treatise on Strange and Suitable Feats was written by Jacob Philadelphia  in 1774. In 1758, he toured England. Although he presented himself as being a scientist, many took him for a magician. In 1777 he refused to lecture in Göttingen because of a satirical poster campaign by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg who libeled him as impersonating a scientist, being a magician.  His final lecture was given in 1781 in Switzerland.

In 1783, he made an application to the Prussian court in order to be licensed to form the Prussian-American Trading Company.  His date of death is believed to have been in 1795.

A biographical novel has been written by Marion Philadelphia in German about the life of Jacob Philadelphia. Its title is Der Gaukler der Könige (The Conjurer of Kings).

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