The invention of this stage illusion is contentious. C. A. Alexander claimed to have walked through a wall built of blocks of ice in 1898, during a performance in Alaska.
In June 1914, P. T. Selbit performed a version of the effect at the Egyptian Hall in London, in which the wall walked through was of brick. Selbit licensed the illusion, put his name on it, and it is clear he was involved in an important way with its development.
Just a month after Selbit's initial performance of the illusion at the Egyptian Hall, Harry Houdini performed it at Hammerstein's Roof Garden and Victoria Theatre in New York. Houdini, while in England the previous month, had bought American performing rights to the illusion from Sidney Josolyne. Josolyne claimed to have invented the illusion in 1913, using a steel plate for the barrier. Josolyne had never performed the piece. And, when Houdini performed it in New York, his wall was brick, like Selbit's. For years afterward, P. T. Selbit accused Josolyne and Houdini of stealing the illusion.