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Monopoly, Monopoly
Part 1: The History of the Monopoly Board Game and Charles Darrow
More of This Feature
• Part 1: Monopoly According to Charles Darrow
• Part 2: Anti-Monopoly According to Dr. Ralph Anspach
Related Resources
More Board Games
The Landlord's Game
By Mary Bellis

In investigating the history of the world's best selling board game, I discovered a trail of controversy surrounding Monopoly beginning in 1936. This was the year Parker brothers introduced Monopoly ® after purchasing the rights from Charles Darrow. The controversy continues with the General Mills Fun Group (buyers of Parker Brothers and Monopoly) bringing a lawsuit against Ralph Anspach and his Anti-Monopoly® game in 1974. Finally, there is Anspach's pending monopolization lawsuit against the present owners of Monopoly. Dr. Anspach deserves the real credit for unearthing the true history of Monopoly while developing his defense case against the Parker Brothers' infringement suit. Make sure to read the second part of this article to find out what is happening with Dr. Anspach today and to read a special statement written by him.

Now let us look at the history of Monopoly play by play.

Let us start with a summary from what is commonly considered the definitive resource on the subject, "The Monopoly Book, Strategy and Tactics" by Maxine Brady (wife of Hugh Hefner's biographer and chess champion Frank Brady), published by the David McKay Co. in 1975.

Brady's book describes Charles Darrow as an unemployed salesman and inventor living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, who was struggling with odd jobs to support his family in the years following the great stock market crash of 1929. Charles Darrow remembering his summers spent in Atlantic City, New Jersey, spent his spare time drawing the streets of Atlantic City on his kitchen tablecloth, with found pieces of material and bits of paints, wood etc. contributed by local merchants. A game was already forming in his mind as he built little hotels, houses and other tokens to go along with his painted streets.

Soon friends and family gathered nightly to sit round the kitchen table to buy, rent and sell real estate, all part of a game involving spending vast sums of play money. It quickly became a favorite activity among those with little real cash of their own. The friends soon wanted copies of the game to play at home (especially the winners.) The accommodating inventor began selling copies of his board game for four dollars each. He then made up a few sets and offered them to department stores in Philadelphia. Orders for the game increased to the point where Charles Darrow decided to try to sell the game to a game manufacturer rather than going into full-scale manufacturing. He wrote to Parker Brothers to see if the company would be interested in producing and marketing the game on a national basis. The company turned down Charles Darrow, explaining that his game contained "fifty-two fundamental errors" including: the game took too long to play, the rules were too complicated and there was no clear goal for the winner.

Darrow continued to manufacture the game; he hired a printer friend to produce five thousand copies. He had orders to fill from department stores including F. A. O. Schwarz. One customer, a friend of Sally Barton, daughter of Parker Brothers' founder, George Parker, bought a copy of the game. The friend told Mrs. Barton how much fun Monopoly was, the friend also suggested that Mrs. Barton tell her husband, Robert B. M. Barton, then president of Parker Brothers. Mr. Barton listened to his wife and bought a copy of the game. Soon he arranged to talk business with Darrow in Parker Brothers' New York sales office, offering to buy the game and give Charles Darrow royalties on all sets sold. Darrow accepted and permitted Parker Brothers to develop a shorter variation of the game, added as an option to the rules.

The royalties from Monopoly made Charles Darrow a millionaire, the first game inventor to make that much money. In 1970, a few years after Darrow's death, Atlantic City erected a commemorative plaque in his honor. It stands on the Boardwalk, near the corner of Park Place.

Let us go back a few spaces and look at earlier versions and patents of Monopoly type games, information that does not click with events as described by Maxine Brady.

On January 5, 1904, Lizzie J. Magie, a Quaker woman from Virginia, received a patent (view patent) for a board game. Lizzie Magie belonged to a tax movement led by Philadelphia-born Henry George; the movement supported the theory that the renting of land and real estate produced an unearned increase in land values that profited a few individuals (landlords) rather than the majority of the people (tenants). Henry George proposed a single federal tax based on land ownership believing a single tax would discourage speculation and encourage equal opportunity.

Lizzie Magie wanted to use her game, which she called "The Landlord's Game" as a teaching device for George's ideas. The Landlord's Game and Monopoly are very similar, except all the properties in Magie's game are rented not acquired as in Monopoly and instead of names like "Park Place" and "Marvin Gardens" one finds "Poverty Place", "Easy Street" and "Lord Blueblood's Estate". The objectives of each game are also very different. In Monopoly the idea of the game is to buy and rent or sell property so profitably that one becomes the wealthiest player and eventually monopolist. In The Landlord's Game, the object was to illustrate how (under the system of land tenure) the landlord had an advantage over other enterprisers and to show how the single tax could discourage speculation.

The game spread as a common folk game among the Quakers and proponents of the single tax, usually copied instead of purchased, with each new maker adding their favorite city street names as they drew or painted their boards (usually on table cloth.) It was also common for each new maker to alter or write new rules. As the game spread from community to community, the name would change from "The Landlord's Game" to "Auction Monopoly" and then just "Monopoly".

Dan Layman was one such player who enjoyed a copy of early Monopoly, Layman a student at Williams College in Reading, Pa. during the late 1920s, when his dorm mates introduced him to the board game. After leaving college, Layman returned to his home in Indianapolis and decided to market a version of the game. A company called Electronic Laboratories, Inc. produced the game for Layman under the name "Finance", because as Layman testified in his deposition in the Anti-Monopoly lawsuit:

"I understood from various attorney friends of mine that because Monopoly had been used as the name of this exact game, both in Indianapolis and in Reading and in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that it was, therefore, in public domain and that I couldn't protect it in any way. So, I changed the name in order to have some protection."

Another early player of Monopoly was Ruth Hoskins, who played Monopoly in Indianapolis after learning how from 'Pete' Daggett Jr., a friend of Dan Layman. In 1929, Ruth moved to Atlantic City to teach school. She continued to introduce her new friends in Atlantic City (mostly other Quakers) to the board game. Hoskins claims that that she and her friends made a version of the game with the Atlantic City street names, completed in late 1930.

Friends of Ruth Hoskin, Eugene and Ruth Raiford introduced the game to a hotel manager in Germantown, Pennsylvania named Charles E. Todd. Todd knew Charles and Esther Darrow, they were occasional guests at the hotel and Esther Darrow was a next-door neighbor to Todd before she was married Charles Darrow. Todd claims that sometimes in 1931:

"The first people we taught it to after learning it from the Raifords was Darrow and his wife Esther ... It was entirely new to them. They had never seen anything like it before and showed a great deal of interest in it... Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I wrote them up and checked with Raiford to see if they were right and gave them to Darrow - he wanted two or three copies of the rules, which I gave him and gave Raiford and kept some myself."

Louis Thun, the dorm mate who taught Dan Layman how to play, attempted to patent a version of Monopoly. Thun first began playing the game in 1925 and six years later in 1931 Louis along with his brother Fred decided to patent and sell their version of Monopoly. After a patent search revealed Lizzie Magie's 1904 patent, the Thun's lawyer advised them not to proceed with the patent, "Patents are for inventors and you didn't invent it." Louis and Fred Thun then decided to copyright the unique rules that they had written. Among those rules:

  • Ownership of a series entitles one to collect double rent on all the properties of that series..." "Owning one railroad nets $10 a ride, two $25... until owning all four nets $150 a ride.
  • Any one alighting on Community Chest should draw one of the blue cards, which will inform how much he is privileged to give to charity...
  • By paying $50 into the bank, one may leave the jail the first time his turn comes around again...
Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00 dollars...

Well to me at least it is clear Darrow was not the inventor of Monopoly, but the game he patented was quickly becoming a best seller for Parker Brothers. Within one month of signing an agreement with Darrow in 1935, Parker Brothers started producing over 20,000 copies of the game per week, a game that Charles Darrow claimed was his "brainchild." Parker Brothers most likely discovered the existence of other Monopoly games after buying the patent from Darrow, but by that time, it was evident that the game was going to be a huge success. According to the Parker Brothers, their best move was "to secure patents and copyrights." Parker Brothers bought, developed and published The Landlord's Game, Finance, Fortune, as well as Finance and Fortune. Parker Brothers claim Charles Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania was inspired by The Landlord's Game to create a new diversion to entertain himself while he was unemployed.

Parker Brothers took the following steps to protect their investment:

  • Parker Brothers bought Lizzie Magie's game for $500 (with no royalties) and a promise to manufacture The Landlord's Game under its original title and without changing any of the rules. Parker Brothers marketed a few hundred sets of The Landlord's Game and then stopped. Lizzie was not interested in profiting from the game but was happy that a major company distributed it.
  • Parker Brothers brought Finance for $10,000 from David W. Knapp who had brought the game from cash strapped Dan Layman for $200. The company simplified the game and continued to produce it.
  • In the spring of 1935, Parker Brothers paid Luis Thun a visit and offered to buy any remaining boards of their Monopoly game for $50 each. Thun says he told Barton (Parker Brothers) "...it wasn't at all clear to me how Mr. Darrow could be the inventor of a game... we'd played since 1925."
  • Early in 1936, Parker Brothers sued one Rudy Copeland for patent infringement on a game Copeland made called "Inflation." Copeland counter sued, charging that Darrow's and therefore Parker Brothers' patent on Monopoly was invalid. The case settled out of court. Parker Brothers bought the rights to Copeland's Inflation for $10,000.
Please read the final part of this history "Anti-Monopoly" to learn about the monopolization lawsuit pending against the present owners of Monopoly ® and struggles of one inventor.
This fascinating story of corporate intrigue has been assembled from a wide variety of sources, including ...The Monopolization of Monopoly by Burton H. Wolfe published by The San Francisco Bay Guardian and "The Monopoly Book, Strategy and Tactics" by Maxine Brady published by the David McKay Co.

Next page > "Anti-Monopoly"

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