Oz in the News 11.3.21

L. Frank Baum’s Cautionary Tale About the Gifts of Electricity The book plays up both the promise and the perils of what was still a very new technology. The protagonist is a young boy named Rob Joslyn, who was loosely based on Baum’s 15-year-old son, Robert. Both boys, real and fictional, were enthusiastic electrical experimenters. And Baum himself, who was 45 years old when the book was published, had witnessed the dawn of the great electrification of America. Born in 1856, Baum was raised in upstate New York, in homes lit by candles and gaslight. As an adult, he and his wife, Maud, and their young children lived briefly in the drought-stricken Dakota Territory, in Aberdeen, before they settled in Chicago in 1891. It was an exciting time to be in America’s second largest city, a place seemingly fueled by ambition and audacious dreams. Twenty years after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of the city, it was preparing to host the World’s Columbian Exposition. On 1 May 1893, U.S. president Grover Cleveland officially opened the extravaganza by pressing a golden telegraph key that symbolically switched on 100,000 incandescent lights. Among the other electrical inventions on display were hot plates, fans, bells, bed warmers, radiators, and a complete model electrical kitchen, according to Hubert Howe Bancroft’s 1893 Book of the Fair.

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