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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

Children's Story, or Political

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

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

Character/Event Who/What It Represents Impact/Significance





Wicked Witch of
the East

The Munchkins

Wicked Witch of
the West

Good Witch of the


The Wizard of Oz

The Emerald City

Yellow Brick Road

Silver Slippers


Tin Woodsman

Cowardly Lion

Poppy Fields

The Flying

The Killing of the

Witch of the West

Clicking of the
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

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 Price of Item 1 Price of Item 2
Gold standard

Gold and silver (bimetallism)

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

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
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

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.