The Game Monopoly
A modern version of the classic Monopoly set
The design of the classic Monopoly set has hardly changed since it was conceived by Charles B. Darrow in 1933 and developed a little by Parker Brothers Inc. in 1935. Its longevity is unusual for a commercial product. The layout and look of the board, and the green and red houses and hotels, are more or less exactly as they were in 1933. The currency and property cards are virtually unchanged since Darrow's originals were revised in 1935.
As its popularity has grown, thousands of localised versions and special editions of Monopoly have been produced, but they are all based on the unmistakable style of the classic set, which despite its age does not seem to date. So-called 'vintage' sets of Monopoly are available in abundance on Ebay and some 'Special Editions' promoted by Parker Brothers (and more recently, Hambro) claim to replicate the 1935 design, but apart from the houses and hotels now being in plastic instead of wood, all the designs are fundamentally the same.
Charles Darrow designed Monopoly rather than invented it. His interpretation of an earlier game into a layout and design that no-one has since been able to improve was his master-stroke. The Monopoly board is beautifully elegant in its stylised, functional simplicity. The cartoon-like illustrations for "Free Parking", "Go to Jail", "Electric Company", and "Water Works" are as fresh and expressive today as when they were first drawn.
Monopoly is not a particularly good game. The throw of the dice plays a large part in the outcome, and a game eventually grinds to a halt after enough players have dropped out to make it pointless to continue. The commercial success of Monopoly must therefore be largely due to its marketing and presentation, a significant part of which is undoubtedly the visual appeal and functionality of the playing apparel created by Darrow and Parker Brothers in 1933-35.
The original Monopoly board layout
In 1904 Elizabeth "Lizzie" J. Magie, a young Quakeress from Arden, Delaware, was granted a U.S. Patent for a game called The Landlord's Game (left). Lizzie Magie was a supporter of the political economist Henry George and her game was politically inspired. The idea behind The Landlord's Game was to show how property owners became rich at the expense of impoverished tenants. Visually, the game is a far cry from Monopoly but recognisably its forerunner. Around the circle in the top right corner square is written "Labour upon Mother Earth produces Wages" ("Collect $200 salary as you pass GO" in Monopoly). As in Monopoly there is a jail in the bottom right corner, the left bottom corner reads "Poor House" and "Public Park" ("Free Parking" in Monopoly), and the top left corner "Owner Lord Blueblood London England" and "No Trespassing Go to Jail" ("Go to Jail" in Monopoly). Each of the board's four edges contains nine squares, as does Monopoly, with stations in the centre and rectangles representing property (giving amounts for sale and for rent) and others representing "Absolute Necessity" (bread, shelter, clothing, taxes) or "Luxury" and "Legacy".
The Landlord's Game was commercially produced in 1910 by the Economic Game Company of New York and in 1913 by the Newbie Game Company of London. Home made versions also proliferated and the rules were gradually simplified into a game that became known as Auction Monopoly. During this period the localisation of street names by enthusiasts foretells one of Monopoly's commercial advantages in lending itself to its manufacturer being able to tailor the product to the preferences of the user.
Paradoxically, amongst the communities of early players who drew their own makeshift 'boards' it was considered a point of principle to discourage the monopolisation of Auction Monopoly – or Monopoly as it came to be known – by commercial manufacturers. At this stage Monopoly was to a large exent a mid-Atlantic states folk game played on crayoned oilcloth or linen, with street names taken from the immediate surroundings. In 1926, Ruth Hoskins, a teacher at the Quaker School in Atlantic City, was introduced to Monopoly by a group of enthusiasts from Reading, Massachusets. In keeping with the tradition, Hoskins and her friends decided to introduce Atlantic City property names to their version of the game.
By 1931 the Pennsylvania brothers Louis and Ferdinand Thun had produced a set of written rules for a version of Monopoly which they unsuccessfully tried to sell to the New York stores and which included printed game cards and playing money. At around the same time, Daniel W. Layman, a student at Williams College in Reading and who had been introduced to Monopoly by the Thun brothers, also had the idea to market the game. The board, cards, money, and pieces were manufactured for Layman by Electronic Laboratories Inc. It was promoted under the name of Finance because Layman believed the name Monopoly to be already in the public domain and he wanted a name he could protect.
By this time the Monopoly story had become quite complex and fraught with legal issues. For more information, there's a 1978 Historical Review by Charles J. Adams III.
Enter Charles B. Darrow and Parker Brothers Inc.
Charles Darrow was introduced to Monopoly by Charles Todd, a local hotel manager. Darrow was then unemployed and with his wife and son began making sets of the game to his own design. Todd had been shown the game by friends of Ruth Hoskins and an incorrect spelling of one of the Atlantic City properties – Marvin Gardens instead of the correct Marven Gardens – was somehow passed from the Hoskins game to the one designed by Darrow.
To make his game different from the folk versions Darrow's first design for the Monopoly board was circular, but in other respects the classic visual signature was already there – the dividing lines, the coloured bars identifying the various properties, and the now familiar icons for "Free parking", the stations, "Electric Company", "Water Works", and "GO". He soon replaced the inefficient circular design with a square one and began selling handmade sets to friends for a few dollars. By 1934, to speed up production Darrow was helped by Lytton Patterson, a friend and also the owner of Patterson and White Printing in Philadelphia.
When a Philadelphia department store placed orders for thousands of Monopoly sets Darrow approached Parker Brothers, a well-established games company, to ask if they were interested in producing and marketing the game nationally. Parker Brothers were in the doldrums of the Great Depression and looking out for new products, but Darrow's game had too many 'design errors' to comply with the company's selection criteria for family games, so they rejected it. In short, they found Monopoly pointless, too long, and too complex. But they changed their minds when they could see the obvious success of Darrow's product in prestigious city shops.
At first, Charles Darrow presented Monopoly to Parker Brothers as entirely his own invention and for which he owned the patent. The company soon discovered the truth, but the game was proving such an instant commercial success that they opted to promote it as Darrow's creation, whilst at the same time taking steps to protect the product by buying out Lizzie Magie's 1904 patent. She accepted $500 in return for an assurance that Parker Brothers would market her Landlord's Game and Henry George's single tax theories could be "spread to the people of the country" (of course they did no such thing).
Monopoly as manufactured by Parker Brothers was soon the pastime rage of America, and international licensing rights were given to John Waddington Ltd in the United Kingdom. A London version of the game, with London place names, was launched in 1936. "The Angel Islington" shot to stardom in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth.
Several decades later, enter Ralph Ansbach
In 1974 Ralph Ansbach, now a retired professor of Economics from San Francisco State University, launched a game he had invented called Anti-Monopoly (I). As the name suggests, the game is a sort of Monopoly in reverse. It begins with a monopoly of the board, and the players compete to return it back to a competitive, free enterprise system. This was followed by Anti-Monopoly II – more like Monopoly but with an Anti-Monopoly theme, and then The Original Monopoly Game – actually two games whose aim is to recreate the early folk versions.
Parker Brothers Inc. was by then owned by General Mills, a large corporation who ordered Anti-Monopoly to be taken off the market. Anspach's company refused, resulting in legal battles lasting a decade, during six of which a federal district judge banned the game from the market. Anti-Monopoly won two appeals and ultimately won their case at the United States Supreme Court.
The courts thus confirmed the existence of a board game called the Landlord's Game which had been popularly played at least 30 years before Parker Brothers published Monopoly in 1935. Anti-Monopoly was re-launched as a new game in 1984, still with an anti-monopolistic theme, but it has not proved particularly successful. Ralph Anspach subsequently wrote a book called The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle. In 1999 he noted "It turns out that the monopoly game was invented by anti-monopolists as a light-hearted roast of the greedy conduct of monopolists… a game in which the bad guys win."
For more information about Monopoly, visit Wikipedia.
[ First published May 13th, 2006 ]