Article abstract: Baum is best known for creating the marvelous land of Oz, a utopian fantasy world chronicled in a series of children’s books beginning with the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. Through his Oz series, Baum created a unique American version of the standard fairy tale.
Lyman Frank Baum was the seventh of nine children born to German immigrants Cynthia and Benjamin Baum. The Baum family immigrated to the United States seeking religious freedom. Frank’s grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider. His father was a cooper who later became wealthy in the oil skimming business. Born with a weak heart, Frank is said to have suffered from bouts of angina throughout his entire life and was tutored at home until age twelve, when his parents decided he was healthy enough to attend the prestigious Peerskill Academy, a military boarding school in Peerskill, New York. Baum left Peerskill after two years and finished his education at home.
Baum’s writing career began when his father bought him a small, foot-powered printing press for his fourteenth birthday. Within a year, in May of 1871, Frank and his younger brother Harry were publishing The Rose Lawn Home Journal, a neighborhood newspaper. In 1872 Baum began publishing The Stamp Collector, a monthly magazine for philatelists. In 1873, Baum purchased a new press and, along with Thomas G. Alford, founded The Empire.
When Baum turned nineteen, he put his writing and publishing career on hold to become an actor and a breeder of Hamburg chickens. After winning awards from several poultry associations, Baum started a new magazine, The Poultry Record. Poultry was to remain one of Baum’s preoccupations. In 1886 he wrote his first book, The Book of the Hamburgs, a complete guide to Hamburg husbandry.
Through his late teens, Baum wandered through numerous jobs ranging from salesman to oil worker. Born with good looks, a strong stage presence, and a strong baritone voice, Baum seemed to be a natural for the stage. He attempted to fulfill his desire to act by joining up with traveling theater troupes. After being fleeced by a number of troupes, he turned to theater management when his father purchased a small chain of opera houses in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1881 Baum published the successful musical melodrama The Maid of Arran, which was based on the Scottish novel A Princess of Thule by William Black. One year later, Baum married Maude Gage, daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a prominent figure in the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1887, after the death of his father and the loss of most of the family fortune, Baum followed members of the Gage family to Aberdeen in the Dakota Territory. Baum opened a store called Baum’s Bazaar. It was on the bazaar’s sidewalks that Baum spent hours telling stories to his own children and children from the neighborhood. The bazaar failed in 1890, forcing Baum to return to journalism as he took the job of running the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, a weekly newspaper. While in this position, Baum published editorials that ranged from vehement support for the women’s suffragist movement to advocating the “extermination of the [Sioux] Indians.” By March, 1891, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer had gone bankrupt, and the Baum family, which now included four sons, headed to Chicago, Illinois.
Once in Chicago, Baum quickly landed a job as a reporter for the Evening Post. To make ends meet, Baum also became a traveling salesman for Pitkin and Brooks, a company that sold china. Baum used the traveling time as an opportunity to devise characters and story lines for the tales he told his sons. Baum’s china sales were remarkably high because he took the time to teach his customers how to construct effective window displays for the products. Baum turned these lessons into a successful magazine called The Window Dresser, a professional organization of window trimmers, and a book, The Art of Decorating Dry Good Windows and Interiors (1900).
Baum continued to spend a great deal of his free time telling stories to children. When his sons had difficulty understanding the Mother Goose verses, Baum developed prose explanations of the stories. Baum’s mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, urged him to submit these explanations to a publisher. Way and Williams publishers teamed Baum with artist Maxfield Parrish to produce Mother Goose in Prose (1897). The modest sales of Mother Goose led to Father Goose, His Book (1899), with color illustrations (a radical idea for the day) by William Wallace Denslow. Father Goose, His Book was an instant success and became the best-selling children’s book of 1899.
Denslow and Baum soon began work on their second book, tentatively titled The Emerald City. Because of a publishing superstition about using jewels as part of titles, the name was changed to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Denslow and Baum again insisted on color...
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