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.
Putting 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.
I 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!)