Lyman Frank Baum, 1856 - 1919

portrait of L. Frank Baum
(ca. 1900-1910)
L. Frank Baum signature

Born: 15 May 1856, Chittenango, New York
Died: 6 May 1919, Hollywood, California

Baum's father Benjamin was a barrel maker and profited greatly from the Pennsylvania oil boom that started when Frank (he didn't like or use his first name) was three. With a weak heart and tendency to daydreaming, the boy was educated by tutors and many hours in his father's library. At twelve he was sent to Peekskill Military Academy but came home after two years with no love for school or the military. He started at least two publishing ventures from home on a small press his father bought for him. At twenty he took up breeding Hamburgs, a fancy chicken breed, which led him to start his third periodical (the first of significance) and his first book was on that subject. He had a lifelong love of the theatre, he wrote, acted, and produced, as well as operating a theatre for a time, invariably with negative financial consequences, sometimes bringing his family near bankruptcy. After his theatre burned down he moved with his wife to Aberdeen in the Dakota Territory where he opened a general store which failed, then he edited the local paper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. Bleak descriptions of Kansas were probably based on what is now South Dakota. In 1891 the family, now including four sons, moved to Chicago where he worked as a reporter and wrote a book on store displays. He published Mother Goose in Prose in 1897 to moderate success, then had his major success with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. He went on to write sixteen books set in Oz, along with a similar number of juvenile fiction works under his own name, six other series under different pseudonyms, fifteen plays, and dozens of short stories. The family moved to Hollywood and Baum started a film production company in 1914, initially with more success than his stage ventures. He suffered a stroke and died at home the next day.

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