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1935 Fifty Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

“I will sign a statement or affidavit to the effect that I never heard of any game or pastime called Monopoly prior to my own use of the word in this connection,” wrote the self-proclaimed inventor of Monopoly, Charles B. Darrow, to Parker Brothers in April. It must have seemed an evasive way to say that he had created the game itself, but Parker Brothers patented Monopoly in his name anyway and placed it on the market. Sales skyrocketed. Puzzles, paper masks, and games all sold well during the Depression, but Monopoly was ideally suited to the era: getting rich and forcing one’s opponents into bankruptcy is the object of the game. Monopoly granted the unemployed an opportunity to be fiendishly wealthy for hours at a time.

It seems Darrow found in Monopoly a somewhat similar opportunity. Testimony presented at a 1977 trademarkinfringement suit that Parker Brothers successfully filed against a game called Anti-Monopoly revealed why Darrow worded his 1935 letter so carefully:

In 1904 Elizabeth J. Magie patented The Landlord Game. A Quaker and follower of the nineteenth-century economist Henry George, Magie believed the power of landlords could be controlled if a single tax on land alone were instituted. She invented her game to teach “how the landlord has an advantage over other enterprisers. Since Magie never manufactured her game, players made their own boards and named the properties after streets and companies in their hometowns.”In 1931 one of Darrow’s neighbors invited him over to play an Atlantic City version of the game. “He took a long time catching on,” the neighbor testified. But Darrow wasn’t so stupid. He asked for a copy of the rules and board—and took it from there, in the best spirit of the game Time reviewed in 1936 as being “generally calculated to appeal to the baldest acquisitive instincts.”

Darrow retired a millionaire at fortysix. The game he claimed to have invented has long since become the best-selling privately patented board game in history.

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