No, this is not a post about the Sherman Antitrust Act or the FTC. It’s about the game Monopoly, and how conventional wisdom about the game’s origins can be misleading.
Two different inventors
According to the book The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon, many people erroneously attribute the invention of the game to Charles Darrow with Parker Brothers in 1935. Darrow was broke but made it to the big time and into big money with his game Monopoly.
However, a deeper dive into the game’s history has unearthed startling information. The true origin of the game was in 1904 and the real creator of the game was a woman named Lizzie Magie.
The Landlord’s Game
Magie was a bit of a polymath; a writer, actor, poet, feminist and inventor. She worked in the Dead Letter Office in Washington, D.C as a typist and stenographer. Her patent for the Landlord’s Game was uncannily similar to the modern version.
The game Magie created:
- Was a square board with nine space on each side
- Had corner spaces such as Lord Blueblood’s Estate No Trespassing Go to Jail, Coal Taxes $5, Poor House, Collect Your Wages $100 and Public Park
- Had other spaces with prices and names such as Light Franchise and Gee Whiz R.R.
- Had the objective of players buying up properties and then charging rent at the expense, and ultimate downfall, of the other players
- Had two sets of rules, one for the “monopolist” and one for the “anti-monopolist”
- Was copied by people in home versions
- Was very popular all along the East Coast
Magie, who married a businessman, sold her patent to Parker Brothers in 1935 for $500 (the same year Darrow made his deal with the company). Magie believed that the Landlord’s Game would enlighten the masses as to how they were being taken advantage of by the tycoons of the day. Did it work?