It would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of the L. Frank Baum story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While many may not have read the original book published by Baum in 1900 it is a fair bet that most of us have seen the MGM movie, The Wizard of Oz (1939) starring Judy Garland which is based off of the original book with slight variations. Still others have seen the successful stage play, Wicked which is based on a story written as a prequel and history of the two main witches from the original story.
Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856 and in Chittenango, New York. He was heavily involved in theater and later moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (South Dakota) for a time with his wife and children to eventually become an editor for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. Following the failure of his newspaper he moved his wife and four sons to the neighborhood of Humboldt Park in Chicago where he worked as a reporter for The Evening Post.
It was here in Chicago in 1893 that Baum was exposed to the World’s Columbian Exposition. Baum visited the “White City” as often as he could and it has been said that he received his inspiration for the Emerald City in the Land of Oz from Chicago’s White City.
If Baum received the inspiration for his Emerald City from Chicago’s White City then it begs the question, Who was the inspiration for his Wizard of Oz?
In the 1900 story the Witch of the North states, “Oz himself is the Great Wizard. He is more powerful than all the rest of us together. He lives in the City of Emeralds.”
In my opinion, the inspiration for the Wizard of Oz is none other than the electrical genius, Nicola Tesla.
Nicola Tesla was born July 10, 1856 (the same year as Baum) in modern day Croatia. His fascination with science started at a very young age. He is most well known for his contributions to the design of the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
He immigrated to the United States in 1884 and worked under Thomas Edison for a short time but Tesla irritated Edison with his work in AC electricity because Edison had put all of his money into direct current (DC) electricity.
The problem with direct current was that it couldn’t be transmitted over long distances without losing power (not much more than a mile) The problem with AC is that nobody had developed a motor that could use AC current that is until Tesla came along.
Tesla was picked up by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company and with this new AC power induction motor and delivery system the “War of the Currents” was on. Edison had started a huge negative public relations war against Tesla and Westinghouse and was even putting on demonstrations of how dangerous AC power was by electrocuting live animals at county fairs and had even electrocuted a live elephant to prove his point.
Houses were being built to use either AC or DC current because no one was sure which would win out. All that would change with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago when the Westinghouse Company outbid Edison for the contract to supply the power and lighting for the entire World’s fair!
While Edison was a great inventor he was also more of a Tinkerer. He had teams of people working for him and if something didn’t work they would just tinker with it until they found something that did work. Tesla on the other had could conceive of something and it would literally work the first time it was constructed.
Tesla experimented with high frequency electricity and patented a device for transmitting energy (radio waves) almost a year before Guglielmo Marconi made his 1901 transatlantic radio transmission.
Tesla was consumed with the idea of energy transmission without lines and could light up bulbs he was holding using high frequency electrical currents.
He developed the first radio controlled device (a boat) and had to take it apart when demonstrating it to prove that there was nothing inside the boat that was controlling it. He also took the first X-Ray photograph and created artificial lightning that caused thunder than could be heard 15 miles away.
He would perform magnificent light shows for audiences and people would have to be turned away due to the overwhelming crowds.
A Chicago Tribune newspaper article published on August 26, 1893, during the Exposition, told of one of Tesla’s demonstrations that amazed an audience of electrical engineers and called him the “Wizard of Physics”.
Some of Tesla’s critics thought some of his ideas were so futuristic that they believed him to be nothing more than a charlatan or magician. Tesla was consistently proving his critics wrong.
Unfortunately for Tesla, he was unconcerned with protecting his monetary interests when it came to his science and was truly only interested in the science itself. His great mind and inventions would come to create wealth and prosperity for a great number of companies and individuals but Tesla himself died penniless on January 7, 1943 in room 3327 of the now Wyndham New Yorker Hotel. People to this day request to stay in that room. His cremated remains are in a gold plated sphere on a marble pedestal in the Nikola Tesla Museum.
There has been speculation from time to time of who Baum’s Wizard truly was. I have heard everything from President Grover Cleveland who pushed the now famous gold-plated telegraph key that started the Columbian Exposition to Thomas Edison who was also called, The Wizard of Menlo Park. If I were a betting man I would put my money on the “Wizard of Physics”, Nicola Tesla.
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