THE BIG BUSINESS OF MONOPOLY
by Bruce Whitehill
The game which was said to have risen from the Great Depression of the 1930s actually began as THE LANDLORD’S GAME, patented by Elizabeth Magie in 1904. Ms. Magie, who ascribed to the principles of economist Henry George, was interested in instilling the advantages of a Single Tax concept; she devised a game in which she hoped to point out the folly of a property ownership system where all players attempted to become “monarch of the world.” The game was even adapted for teaching economics at various schools, including Columbia University where the board took on New York City street names.
THE LANDLORD’S GAME, which earned the popular title MONOPOLY sometime after 1910, became fashionable, especially on college campuses, but in its thirty years of evolution, the game lost its original intent–the second half of the game (that part teaching the Single Tax system) was discarded, leaving the game the race for financial dominance we know it as today.
The game was played in many areas of the country, with properties on the board being assigned regional street names. It was brought to Atlantic City where a group of Quakers and their friends made gameboards using names of local streets. Charles Darrow, thought by many to be the inventor of MONOPOLY, actually learned about the game from a friend. That friend, or possibly Darrow himself, misspelled the street name “Marven Gardens” when copying the board from the Atlantic City version; the error, “Marvin Gardens,” remained on the board that Darrow later revised, copyrighted in 1933, and offered to Parker Brothers a year later. Parker rejected the game, so Darrow printed up and sold MONOPOLY on his own; his version did not come with any playing pieces but instructed the players to use common household objects such as buttons or keys. Eventually, either after learning about Darrow’s success in selling his game or because a friend of the Parker family strongly recommended it, the head of Parker Brothers bought the rights and began manufacturing it in 1935. Rich Uncle Pennybags, the mustached character who adorned the Parker Brothers’ MONOPOLY board, box, and cards, was born a year later.
A number of other well known games owe their origin also to Elizabeth Magie Phillips (her married name by the time these games were produced). FINANCE, FINANCE AND FORTUNE, EASY MONEY, and possibly BIG BUSINESS all derived from THE LANDLORD’S GAME. In fact, some shared the same patent number–a second patent number given to Ms. Phillips for the revised 1924 version of her game put out by Parker Brothers in 1939. Ms. Phillips was touted as “the famous inventor” of a number of games sold by Parker Brothers; Parker credited Ms. Phillips as inventor of MONOPOLY too, but only up until the expiration of her patent.
Facts and Figures. According to Rich Uncle Pennybags (as told to Philip Orbanes in his book, The Monopoly Companion), here are some of the ways MONOPOLY has become big business: the game is marketed in at least 15 languages in 33 countries, and over 100 million sets have been sold world-wide; Parker Brothers manufactures 100 million houses and prints $50 billion worth of MONOPOLY money each year; Dunhill produced a MONOPOLY game with solid gold playing pieces valued at $25,000; Neiman-Marcus made a set with solid chocolate pieces–and chocolate board–which could be bought for a mere $600.
In 1991 the Franklin Mint offered a collectors’ edition of MONOPOLY in a hardwood box with drawers for the money and tokens; the tokens were crafted in solid pewter and embellished with 24 karat gold. The houses and hotels were die-cast metal. The price was cheaper than chocolate: only $500.
Anti-Monopoly. In 1974, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY was the subject of a trademark infringement suit regarding, primarily, the use of the word “Monopoly” in the name. In the decision handed down in 1977, Parker Brothers prevailed, and thousands of ANTI-MONOPOLY games, by court order, were buried in a land fill. The inventor then sold the game as “The Trust Busters Game” under the title ANTI _____* (*a figure was depicted whispering “Shhhh.”) As a result of an appeal heard in 1982, the earlier decision was overturned, and ANTI-MONOPOLY got its name back.
STRATEGIES OF MONOPOLY
Historian Wayne Saunders, in his article “Unfinished Business Part II: Games as Rough Drafts” (“Counter Space”; AGPC Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4, Winter 2012), points out that Monopoly star and author Ken Koury says that the game cannot be largely luck, since “the same people dominate tournaments year after year.” Saunders goes on to say, “The problem isn’t with the game, but with the simplistic way people play it, and the fact that good books on Monopoly strategy aren’t as accessible as those on bridge or chess. Thus we wrongly apprehend Monopoly as a pastime for children and overlook the subtleties of property visitation odds and resource management and canny negotiations.”
MONOPOLY (IT KEEPS ON GOING, AND GOING, AND GOING…)
by Bruce Whitehill
If you were playing Trivial Pursuit and the question was, “What Monopoly game special edition sold out the same year it was issued?” would you know the answer was the Monopoly Game: Star Wars Limited Edition? (Maybe it was the wonderful, collectible pewter pieces.) Don’t fret if you didn’t get the answer–or the game. There’s a new limited edition: Monopoly Game: Star Wars Classic Trilogy Edition. And then don’t forget the Monopoly Game: Batman & Robin, sold only in Warner Brothers stores. And no matter where you live, you’re sure to be close to one of the 23 Monopoly City Editions:
MONOPOLY: BACK TO ITS ROOTS
by Bruce Whitehill
At some point after it changed from Elizabeth Magie’s The Landlord’s Game, Monopoly was played in different parts of the country as a “folk” game. Before you could buy Parker Brother’s Monopoly, or even the game made and sold by Charles Darrow (which he presented to Parker Brothers as his own invention), homespun, local editions of Monopoly were being played on college campuses.
Now, Parker Brothers is introducing four university editions of Monopoly, with a bent toward American lifestyles. The institutions of higher learning soon to be immortalized (more than their football teams could ever do) with an official edition of Monopoly are Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Ohio State.
MONOPOLY: MORE FACTS AND FIGURES
by Bruce Whitehill
Did you know that the first edition of Milton Bradley’s game Big Business had property cards just like Monopoly (and the same patent number–figure that one out!). Here are some of the ways Monopoly has become big business: the game is marketed in at least 26 languages in 75 countries, and over 160 million sets have been sold world-wide; Parker Brothers manufactures over 100 million houses and prints more than $50 billion worth of Monopoly money each year.
Dunhill once produced a Monopoly game with solid gold playing pieces valued at $25,000; Neiman-Marcus made a set with solid chocolate pieces–and chocolate board–which could be bought for a mere $600. In 1991 the Franklin Mint offered a collectors’ edition of Monopoly in a hardwood box with drawers for the money and tokens; the tokens were crafted in solid pewter and embellished with 24 karat gold. The houses and hotels were die-cast metal. The price was cheaper than chocolate: only $500.
Parker Brothers is expanding the Monopoly license, and consumers can now find familiar Monopoly designs on glassware, beach towels, Christmas tree ornaments, checkbooks, pillows, rugs, and golf bags. Oh, and don’t forget Monopoly gum!
Monopoly for Collectors.
Monopoly proved so popular that most sets are too common to be worth very much as collectors items. The first “#9 white box” Parker Brothers edition has some value, as do the 1935 and 1936 deluxe editions. Also, look for the 1935 Parker games that have Darrow’s name on the board next to the jail space. Naturally, the 500 or more games printed and sold by Charles Darrow are also of value. In their 1989 Christmas catalog, a respected New York gallery offered what it said was one of the original six to twelve oilcloth Monopolys made by Darrow in his own home. Their asking price: $50,000.
by Bruce Whitehill
In 1974, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY was the subject of a trademark infringement suit regarding, primarily, the use of the word “Monopoly” in the name. In the decision handed down in 1977, Parker Brothers prevailed, and thousands of ANTI-MONOPOLY games, by court order, were buried in a land fill. The inventor then sold the game as “The Trust Busters Game” under the title ANTI _____* (*a figure was depicted whispering “Shhhh.”) As a result of an appeal heard in 1982, the earlier decision was overturned, and ANTI-MONOPOLY got its name back.
Money Can Buy Happiness—As If
by Woody Allen
from “Shouts & Murmurs” in the New Yorker
January 24, 2011
With the economy in shambles, his job gone after Lehman Brothers folded, Litvinov was tortured by indecision over the choice before him. Should he risk everything and buy Marvin Gardens, or leave his money in tax-free bonds until he passed Go? The Dow had plummeted another hundred points that day, and a colleague of his had collapsed with a heart attack while on Free Parking. Word was that the man had picked a card that read “You Have Won Second Prize in a Beauty Contest—Collect Ten Dollars” but failed to declare it. Now the I.R.S. had discovered that the ten dollars was hidden in an offshore bank account and had begun investigating. Litvinov’s hands were shaking when he landed on the prime yellow property, and he called his friend Schnabel at Morgan Stanley, who advised him not to buy it. “No one knows where the market is going,” Schnabel said. “If I were you, I’d wait six months. Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner are meeting in Washington tomorrow and one of the topics they’re discussing is the yellows. We’ll know more after.”
Six months, thought Litvinov. By then Schwimmer could have all three yellows if I don’t prevent it. Schwimmer, Litvinov’s former partner, had recently passed Go and was liquid. He could build. Litvinov, for his part, held two gray properties, Vermont and Connecticut, but his ex-wife Jessica owned Oriental, and he knew she would never trade it to him. He’d offered his house in the Hamptons, more generous visitation hours with the children, and Water Works, but she was adamant. Litvinov had always had problems with women. His inability to throw doubles with the dice had led to a terrible fight with his current fiancée, Bea. He was sure she was having an affair with Paul Kindler, who’d somehow gotten Citigroup to finance a hotel for him on Boardwalk. Kindler had traded for Boardwalk, which gave him both blues, but after the economy tanked and travel fell off no one landed on his property. He tried renovating and planned for luxury hotels with a flat-screen TV in every room, but construction costs soared and he had trouble with the unions, who seemed to take forever just to put up a few houses. Kindler was this close to Chapter 11 when Breslau, of Goldman Sachs, coming home drunk from a Christmas party, landed on Park Place with three houses on it. Suddenly, Breslau needed eleven hundred dollars. He begged Kindler to wait, but Kindler had just drawn a card that read “Pay School Tax—One Hundred and Fifty Dollars,” and needed the money. Not wanting to mortgage any of his properties, Breslau borrowed from loan sharks. When he couldn’t pay on time, they threatened to break his kneecaps. He finally made a deal, offering them St. Charles Place in return for breaking only one kneecap.
Breslau’s wife, Rita, was sexy. They’d had what Hollywood screenwriters called a “cute meet.” He’d picked a card that read “Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad.” She picked that exact same card and they wound up sharing a compartment. At first they didn’t get along, but after a few drinks she removed her clothes and explained the concept of the risk-reward ratio to Breslau and he fell in love with her. Rita stood by him during a crisis when the pieces were being distributed and Breslau wanted the little silver top hat. When it went to Litvinov Breslau was bitterly disappointed. He was forced to take the thimble, which the doctors felt had brought on his depression and led to years of intense psychotherapy. In a listless stupor, he would fail to notice when someone landed on his property, and his demands for rent after the next person had thrown the dice led to complicated litigation (Parker Brothers v. Board of Education).
Lou Daimler was a different story. Growing up in poverty, he vowed that he would make something of himself, but when he came up with the idea of introducing puce and fuchsia properties everyone thought he was a visionary or a fool. He attended Harvard on a scholarship and fell in love with a Boston girl. Family owned the three greens. Hotels on all, of course. They believed Daimler was a fortune hunter, but when he picked “Bank Error in Your Favor—Collect Two Hundred Dollars,” he used the capital to start an Internet company, for which he was offered six billion dollars, although he refused to sell unless the buyer threw in at least one “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Then, there was Porchnick, at Quadrangle, who owned several minor properties and had filed for bankruptcy. Treasury agents learned that he had hidden several hundred thousand dollars in bright-yellow five-hundred-dollar bills under the board, planning to transfer them to Swiss accounts. Poor Porchnick had found himself jobless and broke at fifty-eight and took a bottle of sleeping pills. His note said it all: “To my beloved wife, Claire, I leave Mediterranean Ave. I hope the two-dollar rent enables you to live in the style to which you’ve become accustomed.”
The final tragedy was Milo Vorpich. When Merrill Lynch went under, Vorpich put everything he owned into his mattress. All deposits and withdrawals were made from his Sealy Posturepedic. Then the new Administration set aside two billion dollars of the stimulus package for people with money in their mattresses, and the Fed allotted it by size. Vorpich had a queen-size bed and received substantial help. He decided to marry his childhood sweetheart, but when he obeyed a card that said “Go Back Three Spaces” she refused to wait for him. He could never catch up with her again. If this weren’t sad enough, he landed on Go to Jail. He remained in jail for several years, and finally tunnelled out, emerging on Illinois Avenue, where he was met by a friend with a private Cessna and a Mexican passport. His plan was to fly over Park Place and Boardwalk, thus avoiding the high rents, and settle in Cuernavaca. Unfortunately, his plane ran out of fuel and he was forced to land on Pennsylvania Avenue, where he was slain in a shoot-out with federal agents. ?
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Monopoly Around the World
For the best look at Monopoly in many countries, go to the website of “Monopologist” Albert Veldhuis. Click on world Monopoly. Don’t miss the section of his site that shows some of the oversized art work created by Monopoly and its game pieces; click on Monopoly art.
Austria: According to games historian Rudolf Rühle, the Monopoly-inspired game pictured here started around 1936/7 as Spekulation, from Stomo company in Austria; it is possible that they based it on the German edition of Monopoly. Around 1940/41, the title was changed to DKT, the abbrevation of Das kaufmännische Talent. Peri company of Austria got the rights to DKT in 1990 and brought out several different editions of the game until 2004. What’s curious is the Dutch phrase (“The International Money Game”) on the cover. Note that the words “Chance,” “Start” and “Arrest” can also be used in German.
Monopoly Is Theft
The antimonopolist history of the world’s most popular board game
Excerpted from Oct. 19, 2012 article viewed on Harper’s online archive
The players at Table 25 fought first over the choice of pawns. Doug Herold, a forty-four-year-old real estate appraiser, settled on the car. The player across from him, a shark-eyed IT recruiter named Billy, opted for the ship and took a pull from a can of Coors. The shoe was taken by a goateed toxic-tort litigator named Eric, who periodically distracted himself from the game on a BlackBerry so that he “could get billable hours out of this.” The dog was taken by a doughy computer technician named Trevis, who had driven from Canton, Ohio, as a “good deed” to help the National Kidney Foundation, sponsor of the 25th Annual Corporate Monopoly Tournament, which is held each year in the lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. On hand for the event, which had attracted 112 players, divided into twenty-eight tables of four, were the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mascot, Steely McBeam, who hopped around the lobby grunting and huzzahing with a giant foam I beam under his arm; three referees dressed in stripes, with whistles around their necks; and a sleepy-looking man, attired in a long judges’ robe and carrying a two-foot-long oaken gavel, who was in fact a civil-court judge for Allegheny County donating his time “to make sure these people follow the rules.”
I had spoken the night before with Doug, who won the previous year’s tournament, about his strategy for victory. “Well, last year I managed to get Boardwalk and Park Place, and then everybody landed on them,” he explained, chalking his success up to dumb luck. “What you have to do,” he said, “is get a monopoly, any monopoly, as quickly as you can.” I asked him if he knew the secret history of the game. He confessed that he did not.
The official history of Monopoly, as told by Hasbro, which owns the brand, states that the board game was invented in 1933 by an unemployed steam-radiator repairman and part-time dog walker from Philadelphia named Charles Darrow. Darrow had dreamed up what he described as a real estate trading game whose property names were taken from Atlantic City, the resort town where he’d summered as a child. Patented in 1935 by Darrow and the corporate game maker Parker Brothers, Monopoly sold just over 2 million copies in its first two years of production, making Darrow a rich man and likely saving Parker Brothers from bankruptcy. It would go on to become the world’s best-selling proprietary board game. At least 1 billion people in 111 countries speaking forty-three languages have played it, with an estimated 6 billion little green houses manufactured to date. Monopoly boards have been created using the streets of almost every major American city; they’ve been branded around financiers (Berkshire Hathaway Monopoly), sports teams (Chicago Bears Monopoly), television shows (The Simpsons Monopoly), automobiles (Corvette Monopoly), and farm equipment (John Deere Monopoly).
The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”
The Landlord’s Game, 1906. Image courtesy of Thomas E. Forsyth.
Magie called her invention The Landlord’s Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly. It featured a continuous track along each side of a square board; the track was divided into blocks, each marked with the name of a property, its purchase price, and its rental value. The game was played with dice and scrip cash, and players moved pawns around the track. It had railroads and public utilities—the Soakum Lighting System, the Slambang Trolley—and a “luxury tax” of $75. It also had Chance cards with quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson (“The earth belongs in usufruct to the living”), John Ruskin (“It begins to be asked on many sides how the possessors of the land became possessed of it”), and Andrew Carnegie (“The greatest astonishment of my life was the discovery that the man who does the work is not the man who gets rich”). The game’s most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City’s Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly’s “Go!” was a box marked “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” The Landlord Game’s chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, “Prosperity is achieved.”
For close to thirty years after Magie fashioned her first board on an old piece of pressed wood, The Landlord’s Game was played in various forms and under different names—“Monopoly,” “Finance,” “Auction.” It was especially popular among Quaker communities in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, as well as among economics professors and university students who’d taken an interest in socialism. Shared freely as an invention in the public domain, as much a part of the cultural commons as chess or checkers, The Landlord’s Game was, in effect, the property of anyone who learned how to play it. ….
Lizzie Magie visited the village (of Arden, Deleware, “founded as a Georgist experiment in 1900″) not long after its founding, and brought with her an oilcloth mock-up of her Landlord’s Game, which soon became a pastime among residents. While at Arden, she built a board for the game with the help of a resident carpenter. …
The owner of the board (said) “It was the summer of 1903, A woman (Lizzie Magie) was down visiting here—…I don’t remember the name…but she had an idea for a game.” (The man’s) stepgrandfather, a Georgist carpenter named Robert Woolery, had grown tired of playing checkers at the general store and needed new entertainment. Woolery looked over the plans drawn up by Magie on the oilcloth and immediately set about making the board.
The Arden Board, 1904. Courtesy of Thomas E. Forsyth.
….I had earlier looked up Magie’s 1904 rule set, which she produced several months before she and Woolery completed the original board. Oddly, it contained no rule about forming monopolies out of the property groups, nor did it mention charging players higher fees after they’d built houses or hotels (constructions that also didn’t exist in Magie’s original rules). Nor was there anything about Henry George, land-value taxation, or the evil of rent. If the game was designed to teach Georgism, it seemed Magie hadn’t quite thought out the lesson. Two years later, when the game was officially published, the rules had evolved: the business principle of monopoly was fully established, as was the Georgist alternative of cooperation. Theories abound as to how the changes arose; one holds that someone in Arden had pushed The Landlord’s Game in the direction of Henry George, and also in the direction of the Monopoly we know today….
A radical socialist professor of economics named Scott Nearing…said he had learned to play the game around 1910, while living in Arden, then taught it to his students at Wharton in order that they might learn, in his words, “the antisocial nature of monopoly,” and in particular “the wickedness of land monopoly.” The students apparently taught it to their friends. It was around this time that the game became known as “monopoly”—denoted in lowercase, like checkers, chess, or dominoes. The game spread widely over the next several years, to the hometowns of Nearing’s students and to other universities. It would slowly lose its antimonopolistic message, however, as players came to the conclusion that Magie’s vision of Georgist redistribution was not nearly as entertaining as ruining one another.
By 1913, monopoly had made its way to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and four years later it arrived in Philadelphia. The economist Rexford Tugwell, a future member of FDR’s “kitchen cabinet,” remembered having played it in 1915. By the 1920s, camp counselors in the Poconos were playing it, as were students at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Harvard, Haverford, Princeton, and Swarthmore. During the early stages of the Depression, the game reached Indianapolis, where a Quaker schoolteacher-in-training named Ruth Hoskins played it. Hoskins soon traveled to Atlantic City and taught the game to two fellow Quakers, Jesse and Eugene Raiford.
The brothers were so taken with the game that they worked to improve it. Along with other members of the Quaker community, they changed the pawns to household objects: tie clips, hairpins, keys, thimbles. They changed the names and property values to reflect those of Atlantic City. Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, slums in the Raifords’ hometown, became slums on the board; Boardwalk and Park Place, the carrefour of chic, became the most expensive deeds to purchase. The rules related by Ruth Hoskins stipulated that properties were to be auctioned when players landed on them; Jesse Raiford instead set the prices on the board. (This change later made the game marketable to children, who had difficulty understanding how auctions worked.)
Charles Todd’s proto-Monopoly game, on oilcloth. Courtesy of Ralph Anspach.
The Raifords taught the game to a friend of theirs, Charles Todd, who taught it to its putative inventor, Charles Darrow. Sometime in 1932, Darrow copied the layout of the board, the rules of play, the property names, the deed values, and the Chance cards, and made his own version of the game. His only innovation seems to have been to claim the mantle of sole inventor. He would soon be assumed into the pantheon of American heroes of commerce.