Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to board games and whether they are true or false.
BOARD GAME URBAN LEGEND: Monopoly was created by Charles Darrow.
BOARD GAME URBAN LEGEND: The predecessor to Monopoly was created to demonstrate the teachings of Georgism.
For years, it has been basically a given that Charles Darrow created Monopoly. Heck, if you go to Parker Brothers’ official website for Monopoly, you’ll see on their history of Monopoly page…
It was 1934, the height of the Great Depression, when Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, showed what he called the MONOPOLY game to the executives at Parker Brothers. Can you believe it, they rejected the game due to “52 design errors”! But Mr. Darrow wasn’t daunted. Like many other Americans, he was unemployed at the time, and the game’s exciting promise of fame and fortune inspired him to produce the game on his own. With help from a friend who was a printer, Mr. Darrow sold 5,000 handmade sets of the MONOPOLY game to a Philadelphia department store. People loved the game! But as demand for the game grew, he couldn’t keep up with all the orders and came back to talk to Parker Brothers again. The rest, as they say, is history! In its first year, 1935, the MONOPOLY game was the best-selling game in America. And over its 65-year history, an estimated 500 million people have played the game of MONOPOLY!
While that is certainly TRUE, what is also true is that Darrow basically just re-named an existing game.
The history of Monopoly really begins in a very unlikely place – the philosophical theories of Henry George.
George was a 19th Century philosopher whose main belief (I’m going to stick to pretty broad strokes here, people) is that while everyone should own what they create, land itself should be owned by the community – NOT the individual.
He had various ideas on how to accomplish this, but that’s not particularly important – what’s important is that his views, and those “Georgists” that followed him, were really not very pleased with the idea of people owning land and they ESPECIALLY hated the idea of people paying other people for the right to live on that land.
In the early 20th Century, a young woman named Lizzie Magie came up with a way to demonstrate the philosophies of Georgism. She would create a game that would demonstrate to people that through land ownership, the landlords make out and the tenants get taken to the poorhouse.
She patented the game in 1903…
(Click on the picture to enlarge)
That’s basically Monopoly, right there, but it was called The Landlord’s Game.
The game was rejected by Parker Brothers and it basically spread by word of mouth across the country. It was especially popular with economic professors, who would use the game to demonstrate economic principles (there was a second round that involved specific Georgist ideas, but almost everybody dropped that part of the game).
In 1924, the now-married Magie once again patented the game, this time with the places being named after streets, mostly those in Chicago…
(Click on the picture to enlarge)
As people made their various homemade versions of the game across the country, it often gained the name “Auction Monopoly,” as the properties were auctioned off (which was not part of Magie’s rules).
As time went by, various people added new aspects to the game. One man added four railroads to the game in his version of the game.
The last major pre-Darrow innovation was a woman who took the game to Atlantic City in the 1930s and re-named the streets after Atlantic City streets. The woman, Ruth Hoskins, also dropped the auction aspects of the game.
It was here that Charles Darrow saw the game and basically just took it, re-named it (he even kept the misspelled street name Marvin Gardens!!) and then, well, the Monopoly fun facts already told you what he did, as the game exploded on to the public consciousness (here are games from the 1930s, 1960s, 1980s and a couple of years ago)…
The legend is…
STATUS: True for the Georgism one and False for the Darrow one.
Thanks to John Poland’s awesome Monopoly History site for the pictures of the various boxes over the years!
By the way, in addition to what they say in their “Fun Facts” section, Parker Brothers also bought Magie’s patent from her and bought out the small companies making other variations of the game, then had Darrow file a patent as the sole inventor of Monopoly, and he was listed as the creator of Monopoly.
That history lasted uncontested for years while not really being the truth (there is the caveat that he DID invent the NAME “Monopoly,” so there’s that, I guess).
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org