The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Lyman Frank Baum
Contributed by Sharon Fleming

Childhood circumstances of Frank Baum could have great difference from that of Dorothy the heroine in the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum was born of wealthy parents on 15th may 1856 in Chittenango, New York City. He was born in a family of nine siblings in which four of them died at an early age. Baum had a weak heart and was well taken care of as his parents provided for him everything he needed. Baum and his siblings were homeschooled until when he was twelve years that his parents took him to a military boarding school. The aim of taking him to a military school was to instill disciple to the young boy. He never liked the new school; he was allowed to come home after years.

At fifteen years, his father bought him a printing press as a gift. He started printing newspaper, and that is when he printed his first book. At twenty years he tried poultry farming and became an expert in rearing black chicken commonly known as Hamburg. He then published his second book which was referred to as, The book of homburgs. By the time Baum was 25 years he had stopped rearing chicken and adopted a new interest that was theatre. He became a manager of a local theater club and even wrote several plays, for example, The maid of Arras. He married Maud Gape the daughter of a feminist author Matilda then become a copartner of axle grease making company. He moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota together with his family in 1888 where he started a shop which he named Baum’s Bazaar.  The store later closed in 1890 as a result of drought which whipped outcrops Dakota causing a negative impact on the economy.

Frank Baum took ownership of Aberdeen newspaper and published several editorials among the being challenging established religion. When the economy failed to improve, he moved to Chicago where he peddled chinaware as a traveling salesman. Realizing he misses his family a lot, he decided to look for a job he can work from home. He came up with the “window trimmers” magazine idea.  The idea was beneficial as it was well received. It is during this period that Baum met William Wallace who he collaborated in writing Father Goose, which was a collection of children’s verse. Father Goose was well received that it become the bestselling children book in 1900.  The money Baum got from the sale of the book enables him to afford a comfortable life for his family.

After the publication of Father Goose, Baum was with his son telling them a story when an idea got into his head. He took a piece of paper and began to write, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum was sure the book would be well received. He published the book on 17th May 1900.  The book was popular with both children and adults.  The success of the book made Baum shift to full-time writing. The path to full-time writing was not that easy as Baum parted ways with William Wallace. Besides George Mill, the publisher of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz went bankrupt. The musical adaptation of 1992 which replaced Toto the pet dog with a cow was successful. However, the production was very expensive that it consumed all the books profit.

Frank Baum later wrote the Marvelous Land of Oz with hopes of turning it into another musical play. The book was well received and earned him a lot although the play it inspired failed. Baum resigned from writing the annual Oz book as a way of sustaining his finances while living in Hollywood. Baum continued with his successful career until 1919 when he died.  At the time of his death, the Oz was doing well in the market in that Baum publishers had to hire a new writer.  There were a total of 32 Oz stories. The new writer, Ruth Thomson wrote 14 stories   Oz, while Baum had written 19. More professional writers and his fans continued to create Oz stories after his death.

 From the profits he got from his successful career, Baum and his family lived a luxurious life, visited expensive places and even bought several homes. A lot of his money was put in unprofitable projects. He declared bankruptcy in 1911 and when he died all the money was paid to his creditors. A year before Baum wrote a message to his son that says, “Nothing adverse lasts very long.”  Through the Oz series, Baum left a mark in American fantasy stories.

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