Monopoly Turns 75, or at least the patent does

Monopoly Turns 75, or at least the patent does


Folk Monopoly

Monopoly turns 75 this year — well it sort of turns 75 this year.  There are “folk” versions of the game that exist which were handmade by people long before the credited inventor, Charles Darrow (below right), created his game.  One of these folk games was acquired by the Strong Museum this year.  (see the “Heap” folk game made by John Heap at right)  This creates some haziness to where Darrow got the idea for Monopoly and who really came up with it.  In recent years, most have started to credit Lizzie Maggie, a Maryland Quaker, who patented a very similar game called The Landlord’s Game in 1904.  The similarities of the two games are staggering as they both have the same number of spaces and “lots”/”properties,” Go to Jail corners, one railroad per side, a version of an electric and a water company and players buy properties from a bank-like entity and you pay rent to the owner of the property you land on.  (sounds like a knockoff to me)  But regardless of this inventor nastiness, there is one date that is crystal clear: December 31st, 1935 – the date the patent was issued for the Monopoly game we play today.

Charles DarrowPutting aside my unsettling feeling regarding the origins of Monopoly, one part of the story I do enjoy is that Charles Darrow initially showed Monopoly to both Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers (now both part of Hasbro) and Parker Brothers REJECTED it.  Why?  They said it had “52 fundamental errors” including the complexity of play and the length of a game. (I think they might have been onto something with that second one.  It’s one of the main reasons I’m not really a fan of Monopoly, although I respect its place as an American icon.) Oddly enough, back in 1909 George Parker rejected Lizzie’s version of the game for being too complicated.  So essentially the game was rejected TWICE!

So what did Darrow do?  He did what a lot of inventors do today, he started self-producing the game and sold copies to local stores.  When Parker Brothers saw how well Monopoly was selling they realized that their initial views on the game might have been a little off and they reconsidered Darrow’s submission.  So in 1935, Parker Brothers started selling the game and in that first year they were selling around 20,000 a week for $2 each.  Not bad considering a loaf of bread was ~8¢ and the average cost of a new home was ~$3,450. Ironically, 1935 was also year that the first cans of beer went on sale so it looks like game nights just got more interesting.

monopoly forbesI think we all know the rest of the story from here.  Monopoly is now played in upwards of 100 different countries and there are a zillion versions of the game, including the one that was released this year for the 75th anniversary: Monopoly Revolution (you know “the round one” that spent so much time in the media right around Toy Fair last year).  People either loved or HATED the round version of the game, but the funny thing is – it’s not the first Monopoly game to have a round board.  Charles Darrow handmade a couple copies before he pitched his game to Parker Brothers (at right).  Personally, I like the 4-sided version better but it’s interesting to see how things come full circle. (ha! terrible pun.)

I should also mention that there is a new movie out called Under the Boardwalk:The Monopoly Movie which delves into the world of competitive Monopoly.  It also talks more about the history of the game and it’s worldwide popularity; definitely an interesting flick for anyone who is a game industry buff.  You can find out more about that movie HERE.

Information for this article was from:

  • The Story Behind Strong’s Folk Art Game, National Museum of Play’s Play Stuff Blog, HERE
  • Monopoly’s 75th, Hasbro Press Release, HERE
  • Monopolizing History (citing Phil Orbanes’ book: Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game—And How It Got That Way), The American Interest, HERE

2015 UPDATE: There’s also an 80th Anniversary edition of Monopoly (yep.. we’ll probably get a new one every 5 years!)

9 Comments

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  1. Ian Brown

    Good article, nice to see someone getting their facts right about Monopoly’s true history. Parker Brothers actually paid Lizzie Magie $500 for her 1924 Landlord’s Game patent, plus a promise to publish The Landlord’s Game. This they did, but amended the design to make it unrecognisable as a Monopoly-like game. Patent # 1,509,312 actually appeared on Parker Brothers’ Monopoly sets from 1935, through to about 1941, either as a single patent or with patent # 2,026,082 Parker’s own Dec. 31st. 1935 patent added.

  2. Felix

    I liked the Monopoly Story movie, but I actually found the tournament to be the most boring part of the documentary!

  3. CDM

    Ian – I too am glad that the facts are coming to light. It is very disturbing when inventors are not given their full credit. Such is the case the invention of the television.

    At any rate, very interesting post about the history of Monopoly. I learned a lot that I didn’t know. I had no idea that it was a spin off from The Landlord’s Game.

    Monopoly is one of the few games that I have been playing since I was a child and still play today. I would have to agree that the length of the game can be a negative factor. However it’s a good family game to play as long as you have a few hours to spare!

  4. Colin

    I love Monopoly! This was the first serious board game I played when I was a kid; a big step-up from Snakes and Ladders LOL. Really interesting to know that my 6-year old nephew now wants to play Monopoly, much to my surprise. The game lives on!

    Great facts and tidbits you got there, Ian.

  5. John Littner

    Hahaha…. oh man. Me and my friends used to play Monopoly all night and into the morning too (I find it funny that the Parker brother’s found one of the flaws to be length of time). It’s crazy that this game is still relevant today. I think Monopoly will be around in some form or another for the next 100 years.

    I’ve played some of their other “specialty” boards too (Lord of the Rings Version, etc.) but you just can’t beat the classic board.

    Hmmm…. do I see another Monopoly night in the near future? I think so…

  6. JDintheOC

    Actually Darrow might have been partially responsible for the name of Monopoly but he did not invent the board game as claimed. A woman named Elizabeth Phillips was the one who invented the original board game 20 years before Darrow’s version was unveiled. Darrow’s board which looks surprisingly like Elizabeth’s in content (Space names,Railroads, etc.)was created after Darrow saw her boardgame and tried to palm it off to Parker Brothers as his own. History Detectives on TV had a great report on these two boardgames and Parker Brothers has included Phillips patent number in the list of patents on todays Monopoly boards. Elizabeth’s was named The Landlord’s Game and the patent on her game eventually expired after which Parker Brothers bought the rights to it. Note: Phillips was her married name. Her maiden name was Magie.

  7. Anonymous

    “They said it had “52 fundamental errors” including the complexity of play and the length of a game.” I always thought that the standard game was too long, but I liked the short version. Problem is I seldom every won. Thanks for the short history.

  8. Ethanorrell

    Who doesn’t love Monopoly? Several hrs spent seething over a game title title title, selfishly hoarding all of the qualities you’ll have the ability to -’Monopolizing’ so to speak- and determining your hard gained money like some type of cartoon uniform. So far removed reality, yet concurrently satisfying knowing that avarice all of this-encompassing must be savored. And what true fan of Monopoly doesn’t, a number of occasions, question aloud, “Dontcha wish these funds was real?”

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