The Coffee Shop – MONOPOLY, the Board Game’s True Origins

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The “official” story of MONOPOLY, the one that came inside the game’s box for years, isn’t the whole story of the game. Charles Darrow wasn’t really the sole inventor of the game – in the 1930’s, he “borrowed” much of it from THE LANDLORD’S GAME, which was created and patented by Elizabeth Magie, and from other buying-selling-land games that previously had only limited success. But Darrow is the first game designer to become a millionaire from sales of his board game. Elizabeth Magie is said to have made $500 from her earlier version of the game.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie Phillips (1866–1948) was introduced to the ideas of Henry George by her father, James K. Magie (pronounced Muh-GEE, rhymes with ‘key’), a newspaper publisher and abolitionist, who had traveled with Lincoln in the 1850s during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Henry George (1839 – 1897) was an American political economist-philosopher, famous for popularizing the ‘Single-Tax’ idea. Georgism, the idea that people should own value they fairly create, but that natural resources, most importantly the value of land or location, should be owned in common by a community, was popularized by his most famous work, Progress and Poverty (1879), which sold millions of copies worldwide, probably more than any other American book before that time. It shows the paradox of increasing inequality and poverty amid economic and technological progress, the cyclic nature of industrialized economies, and the use of extensive land value taxes as a remedy for these and other social problems.

Elizabeth Magie made her board game as a teaching tool to explain and promote George’s ideas. The Landlord’s Game was meant to show the economic ill effects of land monopolism. She was granted U.S. Patent 748,626 for her game on January 5, 1904. When game companies showed no interest her board game, Magie and some fellow Georgists formed the Economic Game Co. in 1906 to self-publish The Landlord’s Game.  However, in 1910 Parker Brothers did publish her humorous card game Mock Trial.

She patented a revised version of her game in 1924, because her original patent had expired in 1921, and college students were making their own boards and pieces to play the game. The new version was two games in one, as there were alternate rules for a game called Prosperity.

Charles Darrow’s Monopoly, was launched by Parker Brothers in 1935, and quickly became a best seller.

The Landlords Game-MONOPOLY

In a January 1936 Washington Post interview with Magie, she lashed out at Charles Darrow and Parker Brothers for perverting her game, and held up the board from The Landlord’s Game as proof that she was the originator. Parker Brothers made a deal to publish her games.

They sold her final board game inventions Bargain Day and King’s Men in 1937, and a third version of The Landlord’s Game in 1939. In Bargain Day, shoppers competed in a department store; King’s Men was an abstract strategy game. Part of the deal was that her name would not be associated with Darrow’s Monopoly, because Magie thought it glorified greed, the very opposite of her intention.

Magie’s role as the inventor of the early version of Monopoly was uncovered by Ralph Anspach, an economics professor, who began a long legal battle in 1973 against Parker Brothers over his Anti-Monopoly game. While researching the case, he uncovered her patents. His research became part of the court record.


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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