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The Aberdeen Pioneer

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The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer was the weekly newspaper that L. Frank Baum ran in 1890 and 1891.

When Baum's previous venture, Baum's Bazaar, went out of business at the start of 1890, Baum searched for another occupation. He purchased a weekly paper, The Dakota Pioneer, from owner and Syracuse acquaintance John H. Drake. Drake was planning to leave Aberdeen; Baum paid for his purchase with modest monthly installments. He renamed the paper, cut the annual subscription price from $2.00 to $1.50, and put out his first issue on 25 January 1890.

Like many American communities, large and small, Aberdeen was well-supplied with newspapers; in Baum's day it had two daily papers and seven weeklies. Running one of these papers could provide a living for an entrepreneur like Drake or Baum, though it was a demanding job. Baum probably worked a twelve-hour day on average, doing everything from selling subscriptions and advertising, to writing copy, to setting that copy into type.

The Pioneer started out as an eight-page periodical; in its first flush of modest success, Baum increased it to twelve pages, though he later had to return to the eight-page format. The paper printed syndicated material, plus legal notices and advertising; the portion that Baum had to write and typeset himself varied from one-quarter to one-half of the whole. Baum employed the help of a "tramp printer" when possible, but he also supplemented his income with miscellaneous printing jobs when he could get them.

The most distinctive feature of Baum's paper was his column Our Landlady, which appeared in almost every issue of the paper during Baum's tenure. In the column and in his editorials and other materials, Baum wrote about the range of subjects that interested him; he wrote about store window displays seven years before founding his journal The Show Window in 1897.

The Aberdeen Pioneer faced the same financial barriers that killed Baum's Bazaar. The failure of the wheat crop in 1889 and 1890 sent the entire regional economy into a steep decline, which affected virtually every business to a substantive degree. Baum's subscriber list dropped from 3500 customers to 1400, and many of those who remained could not or did not pay their their bills. The last known edition of Baum's paper is dated 21 March 1891; Baum turned the paper over to previous owner Drake once more, who sold it.

This was not an unusual sequence of events: in Baum's era, more newspapers failed than succeeded. Once the Pioneer was off his hands, though, there was nothing to keep the Baums in Aberdeen; the family soon moved to Chicago.

In Baum's later book Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work, Charley Briggs, editor of a small-town newspaper, does his own typesetting, as Baum had done. And Baum draws heavily on his knowledge of the newspaper business in Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation, in which the three Merrick cousins start a daily paper.

References

  • L. Frank Baum. Our Landlady. Edited and annotated by Nancy Tystad Koupal. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.

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