I'll Buy It !!

The story behind the board game "Monopoly".

As legend would have it; "The year is 1933. Franklin Roosevelt is president; he and the nation strugglc to deal with the hardships imposed by the terrible depression. Among the countless affected is an unemployed heating engineer named Charles Darrow, who lives in a section of western Philadelphia called Mt. Airy.

Like most people from Philadelphia, Darrow would love to vacation at Atlantic City - the nation's most famous beach resort - about seventy miles away on the Jersey shore. But to get there by train, Darrow can't afford the $1.50 ticket to the worlds playground, as Atlantic city was known back then. No money, no fun. Darrow dreams and produces a game that will let the world in on a little of both.

He places a piece of circular oilcloth on his kitchen table and sketches out a gameboard. He sets up an old typewriter and types up rules, title deeds and play money. He goes to a nearby lumber yard and returns with some scraps of wooden mouldings and free paint samples. Hc uses them to make little houses and hotels. Finally he adds a pair of dice and some coloured buttons for tokens. Lo and behold out comes Monopoly. His farnily loves it, his friends love it. They all want copies."

Darrow retires a millionaire as Parker Brothers go on to sell a staggering 100,000,000 copies."

True story ? Mostly yes, but let us re-examine thc beginning.

"Darrow did not invent Monopoly, on his own........Real estate games date from the late 1800's, but the first known person in our trail of inventors was a woman named Elizabeth Magie. Elizabeth was, for her day, a very liberated and free spirited woman. In 1904 she patented something called the landlord's game. Take a look at its game board, as pictured on her patent.

Notice the similarities to Monopoly, a continuous path of forty spaces; four railroads, one centred on each side; two utilities - a water and electric franchise; twenty two other rental properties, value of which increases constantly as one travels clockwise around the board. There are other similarities; a park space, a jail, a "go to jail" space. Luxury tax is present, but not the spaces we know as Chance and Community chest. The board's initial space, where a wage was paid, was called "Mother earth" instead of Go.

Intriguing isn't it ? The landlord's game becomes even more interesting when one realises that Lizzie Magie wasn't attempting to create a best selling board game. She camc up with the landlord's game for propaganda reasons!

At the time, Magie was a supporter of the so called "Single Tax" advocated by economist H.G. His idea was that the only thing that should be taxed was land - real estate (N.B. this does NOT mean property e.g. buildings and improvements). Magie's game wasn't a popular success, but she did producc it herself, and sold some copies through shops in Maryland and Eastern Pennsylvania.

In 1924 she married a gentleman named Albert Phillips, revised her game, and decided to approach Parker brothers, a firm that had already published a modest selling game of hers called Mock Trial. Then she renewed her aquaintance with the man she referred to as the king of games - George Parker, founder of the forty year old firm.

Parker believed thcre was an enormous market for games that were actually fun to play. Previously, board games were primarily devised for moral reinforcement, in contrast to playing cards, which were thought to bc the devil's work (in view of their common evolution with the Tarot). ......When Magie-Phillips came to visit, Parker studied her game carefully and quickly realised it wasn't fun at all - merely educational, and - worse still - political. From experience Parker knew that spelled failure in the market place. He politely refused her game but suggested she secure new patent protection.

Twenty years Later, (1924), take a look at Magie-Phillips new game board. She's made a lot of changes. Three railroads have taken over corner spaces; Jail is displaced: Go to jail has disappeared; the utilities now numbcr three in all. Thc remaining rental properties now have names, like Easy street. Fifth Avenue, and lonely lane. (For those familiar with geonomics, others have highly symbolic names such as Progress Park, George Street and Fels Avenue.)

Of greater importance is a rule she added to the play of the game. Her new "monopoly" rule and "monopoly" card granted higher rents to a player who owned all three utilities or all three railroads. She also added chips to the game. These were used to improve properties, increasing their rcnL Sound familiar ? ... So much for the noble edifying pursuit of the single tax. Bring on the thrill of investing! The opportunily to make a killing ! The chance to wipe out your friends !"

The rest, as they say is history. But back to Darrow and the man who really bought a monopoly, Robert Barton, president of Parker Brothers, his wife being George Parker's daughter. "Barton was a young Baltimore attorney when he joined Parker Brothers. As it turned out, he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time when monopoly hit the scene.

When Darrow applied for a patent, his patent attorneys conducted a search and discovered Elizabeth Magie-Phillips' patents. George Parker remembered her - Barton dispatched his father-in-law to visit her in Virginia where an arrangement was reached to purchase her patents. ..........Parker Brothers gave joint credit, in company publicity, to both Darrow and Magie-Phillips until the patents expired in 1953. To this day, of course, monopoly continues to flourish".

Extracts from "The Monopoly Companion", by rich Uncle Pennybags, as told to Philip Orbanes. Frequent chief judge at National and World Monopoly championships.) Bob Adams Inc. publishers, permission sought.
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