Uncle Wiggily: History of a Gentlemanly Bunny

Uncle Wiggily: History of a Gentlemanly Bunny

Given the time of year, it seems fitting that we talk about a rabbit, with a bowtie, who has been delighting youngsters for generations!  Did you think I was talking about the Easter Bunny?  No!  I’m referring to Uncle Wiggily and the classic board game featuring him on his way to Dr. Possum’s house!

American writer Howard R. Garis created the Uncle Wiggily character.  Born in 1872 or 1873 (depending on the source), Garis was a successful children’s book writer before Edward Scudder of the Newark News approached him.  Scudder asked Garis to write some stories, which he could publish daily, and Garis created a series about an elderly rabbit, Uncle Wiggily Longears, and his friends. Some of his friends are Baby Bunny, Skiller Scaller, Alligator, and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy.  The first story ran on January 10, 1910 and was a huge success, which lead to national syndication.  The stories appeared every day, except Sundays, and by the time Garis retired in 1947 there were more than 15,000 Uncle Wiggily stories!

The first Uncle Wiggily game was introduced by Milton Bradley in 1916 (early version above right) and has been refreshed numerous times since then.  Here’s an excerpt from the 1967 instructions:

“Uncle Wiggily Longears is an old rabbit gentleman who lives in a hollow stump bungalow in the woods, with Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, his muskrat lady housekeeper.  Uncle Wiggily has the rheumatism, and starts for Dr. Possum’s house. No. 151 Green Moss Avenue, on the other side of the forest.  Uncle Wiggily wants to be cured of his rheumatism.  On the way to Dr. Possum’s office, he has many adventures.”The Uncle Wiggily Game, © 1967 Parker Brothers

It goes on to say the object of the game is to be the first player to get Uncle Wiggily to the doctor’s and the white cards will poetically tell you how many hops to take along the path.  Example: “Five hops, or jumps as you prefer, And then look back to where you were” The colored cards are special cards that may direct you to a place in the forest and are only drawn when a white card tells you to take one.  Throughout the forest you will land on spaces like the Alligator’s Den, the Rabbit Hole or the Cluck Cluck Chicken House, which may direct you to lose turns or go back spaces.

Over the years The Uncle Wigglily Game has gone through many changes including updates by Milton Bradley in 1923, 1937, 1949, 1954, and 1961 (see above).  In all of the updates the artwork changed and in some of the newer versions the path was altered as well. The original game used to have multiple paths, which changed to only one in the 1961 version, making it similar to Hasbro’s Candy Land – which strangely, was advertised in this version of The Uncle Wigglily Game (at right)As a side note, I have to say out of all of the games I really think the 1961 version has the best artwork.

In 1967 Parker Brothers obtained the rights to Uncle Wiggily and returned to making multiple path boards (see below center).  They refreshed their artwork in 1971 and 1979.  The next version seen on the market is a 1988 Milton Bradley version, which goes back to the single path.  The other big change in the 1988 version was the numbering of the spaces; instead of spaces numbered 1-151 (Dr. Possum’s office was No. 151 Green Moss Ave.) they’re numbered 1-100. Perhaps this change reflects the amount of time children and their parents are willing to spend playing a game.  I can imagine in 1916 children had a bit more free time and longer attention spans than those who played in late 1980s.  As for how Milton Bradley got the rights to Uncle Wiggily back, I’m not entirely sure.  (As a reminder Hasbro bought Milton Bradley in 1984 and then gobbled up Parker Brothers in 1991 so at this time they’re still competitors.)  My best guess is that it could have been because Uncle Wiggily entered the public domain, but I was unable to find that information.

Today, Hasbro doesn’t manufacture any version of the game, but fear not, you can still get a copy of The Uncle Wiggily Game as it is currently manufactured by Winning Moves.  This is going to be the singular path game, which reflect the changes made by Milton Bradley in the late 1980s.  While you’re at it buy Scattergories Categories from Winning Moves – it’s an awesome game (very very shameless plug).  Oh and you can also buy a book of Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures.

Happy Easter Everyone!

***For More Photos, visit The Game Aisle’s Facebook Page Album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150656706786169.390223.155100046168&type=1

University of Waterloo, Elliott Avedon Virtual Museum of Games: http://www.gamesmuseum.uwaterloo.ca/VirtualExhibits/Whitehill/wiggly/index.html
Hasbro “The Uncle Wiggily Game Rules” from 1967 and 1988: http://www.hasbro.com/common/instruct/UncleWiggily1967.PDFhttp://www.hasbro.com/common/instruct/UncleWiggily1988(english,spanish).PDF
“Recalling Newark News Writer Howard Garis and His Rabbit” By Nat Bodian, Old Newark: http://www.oldnewark.com/memories/newspapers/bodiangaris.htm
The Strong Museum’s online collection: http://www.thestrong.org/online-collections/search/index.php?q=uncle+wiggily+game&op.x=13&op.y=24&op=Search
Board Game Geek’s “Uncle Wiggily” entry: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3074/uncle-wiggily
Photos from eBay and Flickr searches
Further Reading:You can read/download some of the Uncle Wiggily stories at The Guttenberg Project’s site: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/g#a808
Uncle Wiggily, The Strong Museum of Play: http://www.museumofplay.org/online-collections/3/48/104.1237

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