The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a popular children’s story about a young girl who gets lost in the mystical land of Oz authored by L. Frank Baum. While the primary audience of the book were children, the story has been subject to many economic and political interpretations. One of them was by Henry Littlefield, an American educator and historian, about how the book by Frank Baum is actually a political satire about the gold standard in America.
The Coinage Act of 1873 – later condemned by some as the “Crime of ’73” – was responsible for ending bimetallism in America, bringing forth the strict “gold standard”. This meant that the holders of silver bullion couldn’t have their metal made into fully legal tender dollar coins. The demonetization of silver was seen as one of the causes of the Panic of 1873, a severe depression that hit America from 1893 to 1897. Support for bimetallism was stewing in the 1870s and reached its pinnacle with the 1896 campaign of William Jennings Bryan the Democratic nominee for president. He made his famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention where he passionately condemned the gold standard.
In 1964 Henry Littlefield wrote an article in the American Quarterly titled “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” According to the article, the story was an elaborate allegory for the Populist movement and a commentary on the ongoing debates over the gold-standard monetary policy of the times. The main and supporting characters, the emerald city, Dorothy’s shoes (they are famously ruby-coloured in the movie, but originally they were made to be silver in the book), the yellow brick road etc. were all metaphors for different political and economic players. Dorothy follows the Yellow-brick road (the gold standard system) to reach the Wizard of Oz (President William McKinley) who turns out to be a useless fraud. Later she discovers that her silver slippers (the silver standard or the bimetallic system) were her true saviours and she uses them to get home.