By Beth Clark • May 15, 2018
For those of you who didn't know/haven't guessed yet, Lyman Frank Baum, born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York, is the imaginative genius that wrote The Wizard of Oz and its sequels. Today would have been his 162nd birthday, and 2018 marks the 118th year since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first printed. In fact, in addition to being produced as big and small screen movies, musicals, and plays, and being referenced in countless others, it's never been out of print—an impressive feat.
All authors have to begin somewhere, and in Baum's case, it was at 23 with a chicken trade journal he started. Inspired by his hobby of raising fancy chickens, it also built on his printing press hobby. He sold the journal but stayed on as a column writer and inadvertently had his first book published when a series he wrote on breeding and raising Hamburgs was reprinted in full without his knowledge.
Before his chicken days, Baum went to military school in an upstate New York town that may or may not have been paved with yellow bricks. (The real inspiration for the road to Oz was probably a street in Michigan.) It was during Baum's brief career as an actor that he visited Kansas on tour with a play that he also wrote and produced. His play was successful, but his acting wasn't. Other professional roads that failed were sales and newspaper publishing, but Baum had the wisdom and courage to keep going.
A devoted family man with a wife and four sons of his own, Baum finally found a career home at the age of 41 when he published his first children's book, Mother Goose in Prose. Next came Father Goose: His Book in 1899, a couple of alphabet books, and finally, the "true American fairytale" introduced Dorothy, Toto, and the rest of Oz to the world. In total, he wrote 15 Oz books and provided us with some of the most influential quotes of all time.
Oh, and the inspiration for the "Land of Oz" was an otherwise completely uninspired file cabinet drawer marked "O–Z," which just goes to show that ideas are everywhere...all you have to do is look. Feel free to share other fun Oz facts or quotes!