The Wonderful Wizard Of Window Displays


Meet the man who pioneered the commercialized art form:

Lyman Frank Baum, the editor of the Show Window, a monthly journal for "merchants and professionals" first published in Chicago in 1897, was not by profession what was then called a "window trimmer". … Before him, and the set-pieces he photographed for his magazine, most shopkeepers regarded their windows as simply places to cram with as much merchandise as possible. Baum, though—having lived, and performed on stage, by candle, oil lamp and gas jet—gloried in the potential of electric light, installed in many store windows after the high-voltage World’s Fair of 1893. And he understood that, in this new world of material plenty, goods alone had lost their primary appeal. A better idea would be to sell a powerfully lit, yet edited fantasy, every article of merchandise auditioned and few chosen—except at Christmas, when too much was never enough.

So what became of Baum?

He had failed at theatre and retail, but his philosophy for a theatre of retail was a timely success. His magazine gained him recognition, income, and enough leisure to write children’s books: his third was a fantasy about a magic kingdom rich in goods, whose ruler fakes an impressive show with theatrical props and a dazzle of light. Baum called it "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", and bowed out of windows.

(One of the decorated Christmas window displays in Harrods department store in Knightsbridge on November 29, 2012 in London, England. By Oli Scarff/Getty Images)