I doubt there are many of us who haven’t sat down and played a game of Monopoly. Passing GO and receiving $200, avoiding jail and hoping to land a Chance or Community Chest card. We would try our best to buy up many motels and hotels, preferably in the best parts of town.
But what do we really know about this age old game? The first origins came about in 1904 when Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie-Phillips an American game designer and left-wing feminist started selling her “Landlords Game”.
Board games were gaining popularity fast in the early part of the 20th century among the middle classes. People had more free time due to changing workplaces and electric lighting was becoming commonplace in American homes. This allowed games to be played more safely and for longer at night compared to the gaslight era.
Lizzie created this game to illustrate the teachings of the progressive era, American political economist and journalist Henry George. Being a ‘Georgist’, Lizzie believed in the economic philosophy that people should own the value they create themselves, but economic value made from land should belong equally to all members of society. The Landlords Game was created to help demonstrate the bad economic effects of land monopolism and the use of land value tax as a solution for it.
Mary Pilon explained in her New York Times article, Monopoly’s Inventor: The progressive who didn’t pass go, “She created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.”
Interestingly, it was the monopolist version of the game that caught on. It became very popular with left-wing intellectuals and on college campuses with the popularity spreading over the next three decades.
After her patent expired in 1924 Lizzie decided to patent an updated version of her game, where she included small changes. If you owned all the railroads or utilities, you could charge higher rents on them. She also introduced chips, which signified the properties that had been upgraded, again allowing more rent to be charged.
In time it caught on with a community of Quakers in Atlantic City, where they decided to customise it using the names of their local neighbourhoods. Around 1932, businessman Charles Todd introduced his friend Charles Darrow to the Quakers version of the board game.
Matt Blitz who wrote an article, Who really invented Monopoly, for the Today I Found Out website, said Charles Todd had stated, “The first people we taught the game to after learning it from the Raifords was Darrow and his wife Esther. It was entirely new to them. They had never seen anything like it before and showed a great deal of interest in it. Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I wrote them up and checked with Raiford to see if they were right and gave them to Darrow – he wanted two or three copies of the rules, which I gave him and gave Raiford and kept some myself.”
It was the great depression and Charles Darrow was unemployed, desperate for money and down on his luck. He took the set of rules he acquired from Charles Todd, changed them slightly and created his own version, which he called Monopoly. He began making sets of this game and selling it as his own creation. He tried to pitch his game to various companies but had no luck.
He did however manage to get it on shop shelves and in 1934 it received great Christmas sales. That’s when it came to the attention of Robert Barton, the son-in-law of George Parker of Parker Brothers. He decided to buy the rights to the game for his then struggling company, and in the first year it sold nearly two million copies.
Unfortunately, not long after Parker Brothers purchased the rights to the game they found out that Darrow had been dishonest when he said that he was the creator. Lizzie’s original 1904 patent had expired, but her 1924 patent for the Landlords Game hadn’t. Therefore, Parker Brothers sought out Lizzie and bought her patent for only a few hundred dollars and no ongoing royalties.
Originally it had no player tokens so, in 1935 Parker Brothers introduced wooden player tokens which were shaped like chess pawns. It was 1937 when the typical die-cast metal tokens were introduced: a car, iron, lantern, purse, thimble, shoe, top hat, and rocking horse, battleship and cannon.
In 1935 Waddington Games was the first company given licensing rights by Parker Brothers for the British Commonwealth (excluding Canada) and Europe. In 1936 they substituted the games prior Atlantic City locations for London based locations. Waddington’s also licensed other editions from 1936 to 1938 and the game was resold or reprinted in Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, Chile, Sweden and The Netherlands.
From then the game took on the design and shape that we know today. Changes were made to the player tokens in the early 1950s when the lantern, purse and rocking horse were replaced with the dog, horse and rider and the wheelbarrow. A poll was carried out to see what Monopoly fans would like as their eleventh piece and a sack of money was the winner.
In 1990 Monopoly Junior was first published, in 1995 a 60th Anniversary Edition was released in a gold box and in 2005 a 70th Anniversary Edition was released in a silver-metallic tin with a plastic slip case.
Late in 2010 for the 75th anniversary, Monopoly Revolution was released giving the game a graphic redesign and a return to its round shape, which has not been seen since some of Darrow’s 1930s custom-made sets.
There have been many versions of this popular game over the years, but to me there will only be one. London’s Old Kent Road to Mayfair and all those places in between.