Charles B. Darrow invented the Monopoly game. Or did he?
It was 1934, the height of the Great Depression, when Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, took what he called the MONOPOLY board game to the executives at Parker Brothers. Like many other Americans, Charles Darrow was unemployed at the time. They soundly rejected the game due to “52 design errors”. Little did Darrow know; this was the third time Parker Brothers had rejected the game.
The game’s exciting promise of fame and fortune inspired him to produce the game on his own. He first made several hand-made versions with handwritten game directions and board graphics hand drawn on oilcloth. When demand for the game outstripped his supply, he sought an outside manufacturer to keep up. With help from a friend who was a printer, Mr. Darrow sold five hundred handmade sets of the MONOPOLY game to a Philadelphia department store who promptly sold out.
People loved the game that would eventually become the highest selling board game in history, even though the “legend” of its invention would soon be proven as false.
The rules of the Monopoly game
The objective of Monopoly is to finish the game with the most money and assets. Players take turns in order, with the initial player determined by chance before the game. A typical turn begins with the rolling of the dice and advancing clockwise around the board for the corresponding number of squares. Landing on Chance or Community Chest, a player draws the top card from the respective pile. If the player lands on an unowned property, whether street, railroad, or utility, he can buy the property for its listed purchase price. If he declines this purchase, the property is auctioned off by the bank to the highest bidder. If the property landed on is already owned and un-mortgaged, he must pay the owner a given rent, the price dependent on whether the property is part of a set or its level of development. If a player rolls doubles, he rolls again after completing his turn. Three sets of doubles in a row, however, land the player in jail. During a turn, players may also choose to develop or mortgage properties. Development involves the construction, for given amounts of money paid to the bank, of houses or hotels. To build a house or a hotel, the player must own all properties in a color group. Development must be uniform across a monopoly, such that a second house cannot be built on one property in a monopoly until the others have one house.
But wait, the Monopoly legend is false
For several decades, Parker Brothers told the public that Charles Darrow was the inventor of the game of Monopoly. The history was even printed alongside the board game’s instructions. But in 1975 Professor Ralph Anspach fought Parker Brothers over the “Monopoly” trademark. The professor eventually won, and the trademark “Monopoly” was deemed generic (many years later the US Congress passed a statute amending the Trademark Act to allow protection of “generic” trademarks and Parker Brothers regained control of the Monopoly trademark). During the lengthy court battle, the history of Monopoly was “rediscovered. Darrow did not invent the game as Parker Brothers had preached. Despite the “rediscovery” of the board game’s early history in the 1970s and 1980s, and several books and journal articles on the subject, Hasbro (Parker Brothers’ current parent company) does not acknowledge any of the game’s history before Charles Darrow on its official Monopoly website, nor in any other materials published or sponsored by Hasbro. Here is the story they kept hidden.
Lizzie Magie Invents the Landlord’s Game – thirty years before Parker releases Monopoly
In 1903, Elizabeth Lizzie J Magie (later Phillips) applied for a patent on a game she called The Landlord’s Game. Magie felt that rental properties were the spawn of Satan and that they made landlords rich while taking money from the poor. She wanted to demonstrate how monopolies end up giving extraordinary wealth to one or a few individuals while bankrupting the common citizen. She knew that some people would find it hard to understand the logic behind her idea, and she thought that a board game would help demonstrate her beliefs. She was granted the patent for the game in January 1904. The Landlord’s Game became one of the first board games to use a “continuous path,” without clearly defined start and end spaces on its board. It featured property groups, organized by letters with properties being purchased by the player at their listed price.
A few early versions of the game were handmade, and it was not until 1906 that the game was mass produced and manufactured by her newly formed company, Economic Game Company of New York. Maggie took an early EGC produced copy of the Landlord’s Game to Parker Brothers around 1910 but Parker Brothers declined to publish it feeling the game was too complicated and not interesting enough.
Over a decade later, many copies of the game sprouted around the country. Magie’s patent had run out and she knew she must make required changes to renew it. In 1924, Magie created an updated version of the game that featured named streets based on actual streets in Chicago. This revision included a “Monopoly” card that allowed higher rents to be charged when all three railroads and utilities were owned. The game also included “chips” that allowed the player to make “improvements” to the properties. With her new game improvements in hand, Magie approached Parker Brothers again about the game and again George Parker declined to publish it.
In the 1920s, the game became popular in the community of Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading resident Daniel W. Layman created his own version of the game using street names from Indianapolis, Indiana. His version featured four railroads (one per side), Chance and Community Chest cards and spaces, and properties grouped by symbol, rather than color. It was in Indianapolis that Ruth Hoskins learned the game and took it back to Atlantic City.
Charles Darrow creates his own version of Monopoly
The Indianapolis version of the board game was the one taught to Charles Todd, who in turn taught Esther Darrow, wife of Charles Darrow. As many others had done before him, Todd created his own version of the game. Todd shortened the name Shore Fast Line to Short Line and introduced the infamous “Marvin Gardens” misspelling (it was not until 1995 that Parker Brothers acknowledged this mistake and formally apologized to the residents of Marven Gardens for the misspelling), both of which Darrow reproduced in his own version of the game.
After learning the game and making additional improvements, Darrow then began to distribute the game himself as “Monopoly”. Darrow initially made the sets of the Monopoly game by hand with the help of his first son, William Darrow, and his wife. Their new sets retained Charles Todd’s misspelling of “Marvin Gardens”. Charles Darrow drew the designs with a drafting pen on round pieces of oilcloth, and then his son and his wife helped fill in the spaces with colors and make the title deed cards and the Chance cards and Community Chest cards.
After the demand for the game increased, Darrow contacted a printing company, Patterson and White, which printed the designs of the property spaces on square carton boards. Darrow’s game board designs included elements later made famous in the version eventually produced by Parker Brothers, including black locomotives on the railroad spaces, the car on “Free Parking,” the red arrow for “Go,” the faucet on “Water Works” and the light bulb on “Electric Company” and the question marks on the “Chance” spaces.
Parker Brothers Buys Monopoly – then discovers the truth
Darrow first took the game to Milton Bradley and attempted to sell it. They rejected it in a letter dated May 31, 1934. Darrow next sent the game to Parker Brothers later in 1934, they rejected the game saying it was “too complicated, too technical, and it took too long to play.” Darrow received a rejection letter from the Parker Brothers dated October 19, 1934. Darrow subsequently took his game to a Philadelphia store and quickly sold over five hundred copies on his own.
By 1935, Parker Brothers heard about the game’s excellent sales in Philadelphia and scheduled a new meeting with Darrow in New York City. There they bought Darrow’s game, helped him take out a patent on it, and purchased his remaining inventory. Parker Brothers subsequently decided to buy out Magie’s 1924 patent and the copyrights of other commercial variants of the game so they could claim that they had legitimate undisputed rights to the game.
Monopoly was first marketed on a broad scale by Parker Brothers in 1935. A Standard Edition, with a small black box and separate board, and a larger Deluxe Edition with a box large enough to hold the board, were sold in the first year of Parker Brothers’ ownership. These were based on the two editions sold by Darrow. George Parker himself rewrote many of the game’s rules, insisting that “short game” and “time limit” rules be included.
On the original Parker Brothers board, there were no icons for the Community Chest spaces (the blue chest overflowing with gold coins came later) and no gold ring on the Luxury Tax space. Nor were there property values printed on spaces on the board. The Income Tax was slightly higher (being $300 or 10%, instead of the later $200 or 10%).
Some of the designs known today were implemented at the behest of George Parker. The Chance cards and Community Chest cards were illustrated (though some prior editions consisted solely of text), but were without “Rich Uncle Pennybags,” who was introduced in 1936.
Late in 1935, after learning of The Landlord’s Game, the Parker Brothers President held a second meeting with Charles Darrow in Boston. Darrow admitted that he had copied the game from a friend’s set. Parker Brothers and Darrow reached a revised royalty agreement, granting Parker Brothers worldwide rights and in return, releasing Darrow from legal costs that would be incurred in defending the origin of the game. Parker Brothers now had full control of the game and could spin the game’s history any way they wanted.
The Monopoly Depression Era Boom Begins – the Monopoly canon is set
The public’s love of Monopoly “sprang from the yearnings of the downtrodden who were devastated by the stock market crash of 1929 and its relentless aftereffects”. Monopoly allowed the hard-working people of America the chance to escape the hard times of the Great Depression with a real estate game that offered them a chance to win and become rich. It was affordable and provided hours of family entertainment.
In 1936 Parker Brothers published four further editions along with the original two: the Popular Edition, Fine Edition, Gold Edition, and Deluxe Edition, with prices ranging from $2 to $25. After Parker Brothers began to release its first editions of the game, Elizabeth Magie Phillips was profiled in the Washington D.C. Evening Star newspaper, which discussed her two editions of “The Landlord’s Game.”
In December 1936, wary of the Mah-Jongg and Ping-Pong fads that had left unsold inventory stuck in Parker Brothers’ warehouse, George Parker ordered a stop to Monopoly production as sales levelled off. However, during the Christmas season, sales picked up again, and continued to resurgence. In early 1937, a Time magazine article about the game made it seem as if Darrow was the sole inventor of Monopoly. The Time magazine article noted that six million copies of Monopoly had been sold and that it was selling faster and faster. No mention was made of Elizabeth Magie Phillips.
Image CreditsHenry George, a politician, economist via New York Times by Library of Congress with usage type - Public Domain
The oldest known version of the game called Monopoly, handmade by Charles Darrow, is in the Strong Museum in Rochester via New York Times by The Stong National Museum of Play with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Elizabeth Magie Phillips and the Monopoly game she patented in 1904 via Wikipedia Commons by Star (newspaper) with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
The Landlord's Game - Monopoly precursor via New York Times by The Strong National Museum of Play with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Page one of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filing by Charles Darrow for a patent on the board game Monopoly, filed and granted in February 6 1935 via Wikipedia Commons by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with usage type - Public Domain
Page one of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filing by Elizabeth Magie for a patent on the second version of her board game The Landlord's Game, filed in 1923 and granted in 1924. via Wikipedia Commons by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with usage type - Public Domain. Original image available online at U.S. Patent 1,509,312 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, converted to PNG by John D. Buell.
First page of patent submission for first version of Lizzie Magie's board game, granted on January 5, 1904 via Wikipedia Commons by U.S. National Archive
This is a small box version of the original 1935 monopoly gamec via Wikipedia Commons by Lucianomarq with usage type - Public Domain
First page of Charles Darrow's patent submission for Monopoly, submitted and granted in 1935 via Wikipedia with usage type - Public Domain
First Monopoly Game - courtesy Thomas E. Forsyth via Landlord's Game History by Thomas E. Forsyth with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
First page of patent submission for first version of Lizzie Magie's board game, granted on January 5, 1904 via Wikipedia by U.S. National Archives with usage type - Public Domain