Lyman Frank Baum was born May 15, 1856 in Chittenango, New York as the seventh of nine children.
He was named “Lyman” after his father’s brother, but always disliked the name, and preferred to go by his middle name, “Frank”.
Frank’s father was a wealthy businessman, originally a barrel maker, who had made his fortune in the oil fields of Pennsylvania.
Frank grew up on his parents’ expansive estate, Rose Lawn, which he always remembered fondly as a sort of paradise.
As a young child, he was tutored at home with his siblings, but at the age of 12, he was sent to study at Peekskill Military Academy.
He was a sickly child given to daydreaming, and his parents may have thought he needed toughening up. But after two utterly miserable years at the military academy, he was allowed to return home.
Baum started writing at an early age, perhaps due to an early fascination with printing. His father bought him a cheap printing press; which, with the help of his younger brother Henry (Harry) Clay Baum, they produced their own homemade Rose Lawn Home Journal. The brothers published several issues of the journal, which included paid advertisements.
By the time Frank was 17, he had established a second amateur journal, The Stamp Collector, printed an 11-page pamphlet called Baum’s Complete Stamp Dealers’ Directory, and started a stamp dealership with friends.
By the age of 20, Frank had taken on a new vocation: the breeding of fancy poultry, a national craze at the time. He specialized in raising a particular breed of fowl, the Hamburg. In March 1880 he established a monthly trade journal, The Poultry Record, and in 1886, when Frank was 30 years old, he published his first book: The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.
Frank was always the spotlight of fun around his household. Another of his hobbies was selling fireworks, as he always made the Fourth of July memorable. His skyrockets, Roman candles, and fireworks would fill the sky, while many people around the neighborhood would gather in front of his house to watch the displays.
Christmas was even more festive. Frank played Santa for the entire family. While his father placed the Christmas tree in the front parlor behind closed drapes, Frank would decorate the tree and talk to them from behind the drapes, although they never could manage to see him. He kept up this tradition all his life.
At about this same time, Frank embarked upon his lifetime infatuation with the theater, a devotion which would repeatedly lead him to failure and near-bankruptcy. Ultimately disillusioned, Frank left the theatre and went to work as a clerk in his brother-in-law’s dry goods company in Syracuse.
Then in 1880, Frank’s father built him a theatre in Richburg, New York, and he set about writing plays and gathering a company to act in them. The Maid of Arran, a melodrama with songs based on William Black’s novel A Princess of Thule, proved a modest success.
Frank would not only write the play but would compose songs for it (making it a prototypical musical, as its songs relate to the narrative), and acted himself in the leading role.
On November 9, 1882, Frank married Maud Gage.
While Frank was touring with The Maid of Arran, his theatre in Richburg caught fire during a production of Baum’s ironically-titled parlor drama, Matches, destroying not only the theatre, but the only known copies of many of his manuscripts, including Matches.
In July 1888, Frank and his wife moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, where he opened a store, “Baum’s Bazaar”.
His habit of giving out wares on credit led to the eventual bankrupting of the store, so Frank turned to editing a local newspaper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, where he wrote a column, Our Landlady.
After Frank’s newspaper failed in 1891, he, wife Maud and their four sons moved to Humboldt Park section of Chicago, where he took a job reporting for the Evening Post. Beginning in 1897, Frank edited a magazine for advertising agencies focused on window displays in stores.
The major department stores created elaborate Christmas time fantasies, using clockwork mechanisms that made people and animals appear to move.
Then in 1900, Frank published a book about window displays in which he stressed the importance of mannequins in drawing customers.
In 1897, Frank wrote and published Mother Goose in Prose, a collection of Mother Goose rhymes written as prose stories, and illustrated by Maxfield Parrish.
Mother Goose was a moderate success, and allowed Baum to quit his job.
In 1899, Frank partnered with illustrator W. W. Denslow, to publish Father Goose, His Book, a collection of nonsense poetry. The book was a success, becoming the best-selling children’s book of the year.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
On May 17, 1900, Frank Baum and illustrator Denslow (with whom he shared the copyright) published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to much critical acclaim and financial success.
The book became a best-selling children’s book for two years after its initial publication.
The Wizard of Oz then became a popular 1902 Broadway musical before the famous 1939 film adaptation.
Frank’s description of Kansas in the book was based on his experiences in drought-ridden South Dakota.
The Wizard of Oz became one of the best-known stories in American popular culture and has been widely translated.
Frank Baum dedicated the book “to my good friend & comrade, My Wife”, Maud Gage Baum.
Frank would go on to write thirteen more novels based on the places and people of the Land of Oz.
And the rest as they say is history.
On May 5, 1919, Frank Baum suffered a stroke. He died quietly the next day, nine days short of his 63rd birthday.
He was buried in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.
Now WE know em