The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Children's Story, or Political Allegory?

The year is 1900, and the country is in chaos. Large scale dissatisfaction by farmers and other Americans has led to political turmoil. It is perceived by many that big bankers and the Industrial Robber Barons have taken control of the country, at the expense of the common worker. Change was needed. It was in this environment that a South Dakota newspaper editor named L. Frank Baum wrote a children's story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in 1900. That story spawned 13 sequels, and several Hollywood adaptations, including the famous 1939 version that you are about to watch. However, a critical examination of the events and people in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz suggests that it can be read as more than just a children's story. In fact, a large stream of references to current events in 1900 suggest that the book is also a sly piece of political satire, and indeed serves as a useful summary of the era. As you will see, each one of the characters and events in The Wizard of Oz can be linked to an historical figure or event from this important era. Hopefully, using this familiar story as a guide will serve as a useful (and perhaps even fun!) way of learning about this very confusing and tumultuous era in United States History. So click your heels together, because we're off!

Oh boy Toto! Let's learn about Populism of the early 20th Century!


Cast of Characters
Use the following table to keep track of all the different characters/events and who/what they represent.


Who/What It Represents





Wicked Witch of the East

The Munchkins

Wicked Witch of the West

Good Witch of the North

The Wizard of Oz

The Emerald City

Yellow Brick Road

Silver Slippers


Tin Woodsman

Cowardly Lion

Poppy Fields

The Flying Monkeys

The Killing of the Witch of the West

Clicking of the Heels

The Scarecrow
The Scarecrow represents _______________. During the late 19th and early 20th century, many Americans (_______%) still lived on farms, although their numbers were declining every day due to more and more people moving to the cities looking for industrial jobs. However, farming still had a symbolic attachment to it, and farmers were able to organize into powerful lobby groups to have their say in government. The Grange:___________________________

Farmers in The Grange quickly recognized that they needed to unite against the banking interests. Specifically, The Grange called for bimetallism, which is when ____________ __________________________________________________________. The question is: Why?
Type of Money in Circulation Gold standard Gold and silver (bimetallism) Price of Item 1 Price of Item 2

1. What happened to the price as more money was introduced into the economy? 2. Imagine that you are a farmer. What would bimetallism do for your income? 3. In bimetallism, does each dollar have more or less value? Why? 4. Most farmers are debtors. Why would they benefit from the dollar having less value?

The Tin Woodsman
The Tin Woodsman represents ________________________. As we have seen, this was a period of rapid industrialization; tin and steel were the new products of the era, and so the Tin Woodsman represents a worker who is involved in the steel/tin industry. He has no heart because he has been ___________________ ________________________ ________________________ The question is: why would industrial workers be interested in forming a coalition with farmers against Washington D.C. and the wealthy bankers? Read the account of the Haymarket Riot and answer the following questions: 1. Think back to our discussion about industrialization. Who controlled the factories?

2. Based on your reading of the article, whom does it appear the police support: organized labor, or the industrial owners/Robber Barons? Why do you say that?

3. What sorts of things might the workers want from their protest?

4. Why would bimetallism benefit industrial workers?

5. In your opinion, does it make sense for workers and farmers to unite? Why or why not?

The Cowardly Lion
The Cowardly Lion represents ________________________________. In 1896, the Democrats thought they had chosen their candidate who would lead them to glory: ________________________________ was an excellent speaker, and had a connection with the people that was like none other. Indeed, ________________________________ is credited with the starting the (modern incarnation) of “Populism”. Populism is _________________________ _________________________________ __________________________________________________________. ____________________ is most famous for “The Cross of Gold Speech”, given at the Democratic National Convention in 1896 (when he received the nomination for President of the United States). Read the excerpt from the speech and answer the following questions: 1. Who is he referring to in the speech as the ones doing the crucifying?

2. Why is it significant that ______________ claims to have both the farmers and workers behind him? How will that help him win?

Note that _______________________ never won a Presidential election; he was beaten in 1896, 1900, and 1908. So, while he was an eloquent speaker, his “bark” was worse than his “bite”.
3. Why do you think he is portrayed as a Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz?

The Flying Monkeys
The Flying Monkeys represent _______________ ___________________________________ ___________________________________. This group of private detectives, started as a private security force to protect President Abraham Lincoln, quickly became (in)famous for being called in to break up strikes by unhappy industrial workers. Their most notorious case was the 1892 Homestead Strike, which pit Andrew Carnegie (of “The Gospel of Wealth”) against his union workers. Read the account of the Homestead Strike, and answer the following questions: 1. Who is more at fault for the Homestead Strike: the union, the Pinkertons, or Carnegie? Explain.

2. Do you think that it is right/fair for a union to shut down a factory? Should the owners have the right to break the strike using other workers?

3. Why do you think the Pinkertons were considered by many to be “tools” of the wealthy elites?

4. How are the Flying Monkeys like the Pinkertons? Why would they attack the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion?

So, let's put it all together: During the late 1890s and early 1900s, a coalition of ___________ and __________ were brought together by the politician _______________ to achieve the following things: 1. _______________: the minting of gold and silver for currency 2. _____________________________________________________ A series of _____________ ensued, such as the ________________________ and the _______________________, where unionists and farmers clashed with _______________ (hired by ____________________) over their rights.

Unfortunately for the unionists and farmers, ______________________ did not win. However, his spirited attempts brought them together into an important coalition. Most importantly, their united efforts at equal rights created the political concept of ______________, which is when the “common” people are held in highest esteem, and their rights are looked after.

Very soon we will examine what these “commoners” chose to do, now that they have realized their political power. Just think, all this stuff from a simple children's story!

Farewell! I hope you enjoyed your visit to late 19th/early 20th century America! Come again some day! And don't forget to study!


Cross of Gold Speech
Below is an excerpt of the famous “Cross of Gold Speech” given by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Democratic Convention. The famous line and image actually do not appear until the last paragraph, which is given to you below.

“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

The Homestead Strike: A Summary
The conflict at Homestead arose at a time when the fast-changing American economy had stumbled and conflicts between labor and management had flared up all over the country. In 1892, labor declared a general strike in New Orleans. Coal miners struck in Tennessee, as did railroad switchmen in Buffalo, New York and copper miners in Idaho. In response, Andrew Carnegie and his manager, Henry Frick, decided to try and break the power of the union at the Homestead Plant, which would hopefully lower costs and bring Carnegie more profit. Frick, acting on behalf of Carnegie (who was vacationing in Scotland) presented a plan to the union that called for slashes in wages. Although only 750 of the 3,800 workers at Homestead belonged to the union, 3,000 of them met and voted overwhelmingly to strike. Frick responded by building a fence three miles long and 12 feet high around the steelworks plant, adding peepholes for rifles and topping it with barbed wire. Workers named the fence "Fort Frick." Deputy sheriffs were sworn in to guard the property, but the workers ordered them out of town. Workers then took to guarding the plant that Frick had closed to keep them out. This action signified a very different attitude that labor and management shared toward the plant. Frick turned to the enforcers he had employed previously: the Pinkerton Detective Agency's private army, often used by industrialists of the era. At midnight on July 5, tugboats pulled barges carrying hundreds of Pinkerton detectives armed with Winchester rifles up the Monongahela River. But workers stationed along the river spotted the private army. A Pittsburgh journalist

wrote that at about 3 A.M. a "horseman riding at breakneck speed dashed into the streets of Homestead giving the alarm as he sped along." Thousands of strikers and their sympathizers rose from their sleep and went down to the riverbank in Homestead. When the private armies of business arrived, the crowd warned the Pinkertons not to step off the barge. But they did. No one knows which side shot first, but under a barrage of fire, the Pinkertons retreated back to their barges. For 14 hours, gunfire was exchanged. Strikers rolled a flaming freight train car at the barges. They tossed dynamite to sink the boats and pumped oil into the river and tried to set it on fire. By the time the Pinkertons surrendered in the afternoon three detectives and nine workers were dead or dying. The workers declared victory in the bloody battle, but it was a short-lived celebration. The governor of Pennsylvania ordered state militia into Homestead. Armed with the latest in rifles and Gatling guns, they took over the plant. Strikebreakers who arrived on locked trains, often unaware of their destination or the presence of a strike, took over the steel mills. Four months after the strike was declared, the men's resources were gone and they returned to work. Authorities charged the strike leaders with murder and 160 other strikers with lesser crimes. The workers' entire Strike Committee also was arrested for treason. However, sympathetic juries would convict none of the men.