Portrait of L. Frank Baum from the 1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 - May 6, 1919) was a prolific American author whose works included novels for adults and children, short stories, poems, plays, newspaper articles and editorials, non-fiction books and scripts for silent movies. Most of his works were published under the name L. Frank Baum but he also wrote under the pseudonyms Edith Van Dyne, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cook, Laura Bancroft and Captain Hugh Fitzgerald. One of his works, the 1904 novel The Last Egyptian, was originally published anonymously.

Baum is best known as the author of the 1900 children's fantasy novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The success of the book, and especially of its 1902 stage adaptation, led to L. Frank Baum writing sixteen more novels set in the Land of Oz and many further attempts by Baum to bring stories of Oz to stage and screen.

L. Frank Baum stated that his intention in writing fantasy stories for children was to create fairy tales like those of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen but which would be relevant to an early 20th century American audience. He was keen for his children's books to be free of moralizing and to place less emphasis on romantic love (a topic which Baum believed children would find boring) and be less violent than earlier fairy tales. There are some violent incidents in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but violence gradually disappeared from the series. However, romantic love is central to the plots of some later Oz books, especially those which were based on plays and films.


Lyman Frank Baum (who never liked his first name and preferred to go by his middle name "Frank") was born in Chittenango, New York on May 15, 1856. He was the seventh of nine children of Benjamin Ward Baum and Cynthia Ann Stanton. Benjamin Baum had made a fortune in the oil fields of Pennsylvania and the young L. Frank Baum grew up on an expansive estate called Rose Fields. He was educated at home until he was 12, when he was sent to Peekskill Military Academy. After two years, Baum was allowed to return home due to health concerns.

Baum was given a cheap printing press as present from his father. He and his brother Henry Clay Baum used it to produce several editions of a family newspaper. As a teenager, Baum produced pamphlets and amateur journals about stamp collecting.

When he was 20, Baum began to take an interest in breeding fancy poultry and became a specialist in rearing Hamburgs. Baum established a monthly trade journal, The Poultry Record in 1880. His first published book, The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise on the Mating, Rearing and Management of Different Varieties of Hamburg, went on sale in 1886 when Baum was 30.


Front cover of Mother Goose in Prose, Baum's first children's book, from 1897.

Baum's father bought a theater for him in Richburg, New York in 1880. He set about gathering a company of actors and writing plays for them to perform. He had some success with The Maid of Arran, a kind of early musical for which Baum not only wrote the script but also composed the songs and played the lead.

In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, daughter of the well known feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage. The couple moved to the Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) in 1888 and settled in the town of Aberdeen. Baum began operating a general store but the business failed because of his habit of generously extending credit to customers. After the store closed, Baum became editor of the newspaper The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer and wrote a weekly column for it.

After the newspaper failed in 1891, Baum moved to Chicago. He became a reporter for the Evening Post and worked as a door-to-door salesman.

Baum poster 1b

1901 poster advertising Baum's popular children's books.

Baum's first children's book Mother Goose in Prose was published in 1897. Its success meant that Baum was able to give up his traveling salesman job. A second children's book Father Goose: His Book, the first of Baum's books to be illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, was ublished in 1899 and became a best seller.

Denslow and Baum cooperated again on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published to critical acclaim in 1900.

A stage musical based on Baum's novel, the first adaptation to use the shortened title The Wizard of Oz, premiered in Chicago in 1902. It played on Broadway in 1903 and 1904 and toured the United States until 1911. Baum is credited as one of the play's writers but how much control he had over the script, which differs significantly from the novel, is unclear.

As a result of the musical's success, Baum wrote several more Oz books, initially with a view to having them adapted for the stage. Several times, Baum announced that the latest Oz book would be the last in the series, although popular demand and the failure of Baum's other fantasy novels set in different magical lands always forced Baum to write about Oz again. Baum would eventually write sixteen sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In 1905, Baum announced plans for an Oz theme park to open off the coast of California. Nothing ever became of those plans.


Still from The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays.

In 1908, Baum embarked on the first attempt to adapt the Oz stories as a motion picture. The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays combined film, performances by live actors, a slideshow and Baum himself giving a fictional travelogue about the Land of Oz. Baum was unable to pay the film makers and was forced to sell the royalty rights to many of his earlier works, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in order to pay his debts.

Having moved to California, Baum founded The Oz Film Manufacturing Company in 1914. Although its output won critical acclaim, the company failed to make much money from children's films and changed its name to Dramatic Feature Films. The name change did not help and the company folded in 1915.

Baum suffered a stroke on May 5, 1919 and died the following day. He is buried in Forest Lawns Cemetery, Glendale, California. Baum's last two novels, The Magic of Oz and Glinda of Oz, were published after his death. A third book, The Royal Book of Oz, was credited to Baum when it was first published in 1921 but is entirely the work of Ruth Plumly Thompson. Thompson became the first of several authors to continue the Oz series after Baum's death, going on to write eighteen more Oz novels under her own name.

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