Baum, L. Frank (1856–1919)

Lyman Frank Baum was the writer of the 1900 children's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as many other novels, short stories, and poems.

Baum, commonly referred to as L. Frank Baum, was born in Chittenango, New York, to Benjamin and Cynthia Baum; he was the seventh of nine children. Baum's father amassed his wealth from the Titusville, Pennsylvania, oil fields; this wealth allowed Baum to be home-schooled. At the age of 12 Baum was sent to Peekskill Military Academy in Peekskill, New York, although he only attended the school for two years before returning home. Overall, Baum's cheerful childhood experience is reflected in the tone of his works.

After his experience at Peekskill Military Academy, Baum took a deep interest in writing. Baum's passion for composition led his father to buy a printing press for Baum and his younger brother, who printed amateur newsletters titled “Rose Lawn Home Journal.” As Baum's passion developed he became actively involved in drama, eventually managing a theater in Richburg, New York. Baum wrote, directed, and composed music for the plays at the Richburg theater. During mid-1882, one of the plays Baum wrote the words and music for, “The Maid of Arran,” became a traveling show with dates from Toronto to Chicago. On November 9, 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, the daughter of the feminist and woman suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage, and moved to what is now Aberdeen, South Dakota, after a fire destroyed Baum's theater.

While in Aberdeen, Baum failed as a shopkeeper and eventually turned to editing The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer newspaper. Baum promoted woman suffrage through the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer and hosted Susan B. Anthony, a friend of Maud's mother, when she came to town. After another failure with the newspaper, Baum moved to Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, four children, and activist mother in-law. While in Chicago, Baum worked as an editor for advertising agencies as well as a traveling salesman. In Chicago, Baum wrote Mother Goose in Prose and eventually his most popular book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Although many have advanced Populist and free-silver interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum maintained that the work was written solely as a children's story and nothing more. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz preceded many other Oz-related books such as The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, and various other works.

After the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Baum family moved to Hollywood, California, where L. Frank Baum became involved in the film industry. In 1914 Baum started a short-lived film studio called the Oz Film Manufacturing Company. On May 5, 1919, shortly after his failed film-industry venture, Baum suffered a stroke, and he died the following day.

Johnathan Fluitt

See also: Film ; Popular Culture ; Wizard of Oz


Baum, Frank Joslyn, and Russell P. Macfall. To Please a Child. Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1961.

Rogers, Katherine M. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.