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Cool Things - Wizard of Oz Pins

Dorothy pin, Kansas Lions ClubThis set of seven whimsical pins depicting the characters of the Wizard of Oz was created for the Lions Club, an international organization founded in 1917 to serve communities. The club's various service projects include youth programs, diabetes education, and disaster relief.

Each year the individual clubs in the Lions Club create their own pins based on a theme representing their state or area. These pins are traded with other club members at state and national meetings. The Kansas Lions Clubs chose the Wizard of Oz for their theme in 1983. Each pin shows a different character from the story: the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy and Toto, the Lion, and the tornado. The codes at the bottom of the enameled pins correspond to the different club regions in the state.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Forever allied with Kansas, the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a book written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow. Published in 1900, it became an instant success.

Oz was an American fairy tale telling the story of Dorothy, a young orphan living with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in Kansas. In the story, Dorothy and her dog Toto get swept away in their house by a tornado and end up in the Land of Oz. Although she is now in an amazing land of color and abundance, Dorothy only desires to return home. The Good Witch of the North suggests she follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to see the Wizard of Oz. During Dorothy's journey she befriends three characters also searching for help: the Scarecrow who desires a brain, the Tin Woodsman in search of a heart, and the Lion in need of courage. Together they have wonderful adventures and in the end each of their wishes is granted.

A delightful tale, the story may include a political allegory (an allegory is a written work that uses fictional characters to portray something in the real world). Discovered by Henry Littlefield, the allegory in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz describes the political beliefs of the Populist Party in the 1890s. Littlefield was a high school history teacher who loved the book and happened to read it while teaching Populist philosophy. He published his findings in the spring 1964 edition of the American Quarterly in an article titled, "The Wizard of Oz: Parable of Populism." Other economists and historians heralded Littlefield's findings and expanded upon them.

A Populist Tale?

One of the Populist Party's main goals was to include silver in the money standard in a 16:1 ratio (16 ounces of silver to 1 ounce of gold). Thus Dorothy receives a pair of silver shoes (which wouldn't wear out easily) and travels upon a yellow brick road (representing the gold standard). The Emerald City represented the "greenbacks" who favored printing paper money not backed up by precious metals. Thus the Populists believed the value of the paper money was baseless, much as the Emerald City appeared green only because its residents wore tinted glasses. 

Several images in the book were popular in editorial cartoons of the 1890s. Tornadoes were often used to illustrate political revolution. In the story, a tornado takes Dorothy from the dreary, barren land of Kansas to the beautiful and abundant Oz. This symbolizes the wealth possible with the addition of silver to the gold standard. The Scarecrow represents the foolish farmer. The Tin Woodsman is like the industrial worker who is so abused that he becomes a machine with no heart. His exploiter, the Wicked Witch of the East, corresponds to the bankers and brokers on Wall Street who were cruel and unjust to workers. The Wicked Witch of the West most likely illustrated Mother Nature and the hardships of the American West. Drought plagued the Midwest in the 1890s, and in the book the Witch is killed by a bucket of water.

Other characters corresponded to political leaders of the time. The Lion represents William Jennings Bryan who was a presidential candidate for the Populist Party in 1896 (political leaders were often portrayed as lions in political cartoons and Bryan was described as having a great roar but no bite). The Wizard could stand for any of the presidents of the era: Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, or William McKinley. Each hid in the White House and used political wizardry to appear to be powerful. Dorothy could be like the American people: naive, young and simple. She has the power of the silver shoes from the beginning, but does not understand their power and is taken advantage of by the Wicked Witch of the West.

The book's setting makes the story particularly dear to Kansans and thus its characters are popular symbols of our state. The literary and, later, cinematic class brought the state to the forefront of popular culture. Although the book describes Kansas as dreary and gray, it remains the focus of the story for it is Dorothy's home and the object of her journey. In a way Kansas is used to represent all of our homes and their importance in our lives. As Dorothy says, "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."

Frank Godding collected these pins and donated them to the Kansas Museum of History. A passionate member of the Lions Club, Godding served as president and secretary for the Topeka club, and president of the Topeka Lions Foundation.

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Entry: Cool Things - Wizard of Oz Pins

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2006

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.