With an act similar to that of ‘La Boule Mysterieuse’ originator Leon LaRoche, French daredevil Achille Philion was a turn of the century circus performer that was hired by the Ringling Brothers when they were still just a small-town circus. Unlike LaRoche though, Philion did not ride inside a ball…he mounted it, and then walked upon it.
Decked out in bright red tights with golden spangles, Philion, known as ‘The Great Equilibrist, would walk out before an audience to begin his amazing act. According to the advertisement of the Adam Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus, by whom he also was employed, the act of Philion was, “The most perilous performance ever devised by mortal man. Upon a (wooden) globe twenty-eight inches in diameter, the fearless Philion ascends and descends a spiral tower fifty feet high on a roadway only sixteen inches wide, and mounted upon this unsteady footing, he ventures out upon a slender cable forty feet from the ground, performing the most difficult feats on his dangerous journey, finishing his wonderful journey by rushing headlong down the tower, enveloped in flames and fireworks.”
Philion became world famous for his act, and amazed audiences in Canada, Europe and the West Indies. One of his many stops brought him to the Bryan Carnival in July of 1908.
Philion was also an early pioneer of the automotive industry, and developed a steam powered vehicle that bore his name. He began working on his steam carriage in 1887, but because he traveled constantly, he would take the unfinished carriage with him wherever he went, working on it as time allowed. Reports of the day say that the Achille Philion carriage was operational as early as 1890. Philion patented his carriage in 1892, but it never went into production, and was never duplicated.
The Philion steam carriage is one of the oldest existing American-built automobiles, predating the Henry Ford Quadricycle by six years, and the Stanley Steamer by seven. Thousands of visitors saw the Philion steam carriage on display at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A chauffeur sat behind the boiler in what today would be called the back seat, and was responsible for oiling and maintaining steam pressure. The carriage could be steered from either the front seat or the chauffeur’s seat, and the Philion maxed out at eight miles per hour from its two cylinder, single horsepower engine.