The game of Monopoly was first published in the United States in 1936 by Parker Brothers. John Waddington was granted the licence to publish it in Britain in the same year. Parker Brothers had bought the rights to the game from Charles Darrow, who claimed to have invented it. The history of the game is in fact much older. In 1904, Lizzie Magie, a Quaker woman from Virginia, patented a board game called The Landlord’s Game. Lizzie belonged to a tax movement led by Henry George who argued that renting land increased land values and profited only a few individuals – the landlords. Lizzie wanted to use her game as a teaching device for George’s ideas. The Landlord’s Game and Monopoly are very similar.
The board for Lizzie Magie’s game bears a striking resemblance to that of Monopoly, except that the names, drawings and colours are different. It is painted with blocks for rental properties such as Poverty Place (land rent $50), Easy Street (land rent $100) and Lord Blueblood’s Estate (no trespassing – go to jail). There are banks, a poorhouse, railroads and utilities such as the Soakum Lighting System ($50 for landing on that) and the PDQ Railroad (fare $100).
There is the well known Jail block. The main difference with Monopoly is that properties in The Landlord’s Game were for rent only, not acquisition. The game spread as a common folk game among the Quakers and was usually copied instead of purchased, with each new maker adding their favourite 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. A British version, Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit was patented by the Newbie Games Company, Dumfries, Scotland in 1913.
Charles Darrow was 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. It seems likely that he came across a version of Lizzie Magie’s game and decided to make it his own. The street names in his original Monopoly came from Atlantic City. This was where Darrow went on holiday. He sketched out the game on his kitchen tablecloth and added in little wooden buildings and other tokens. His game became very popular with his family and friends and they wanted copies of their own. Darrow was happy to oblige and started making up sets by hand and selling them for a few dollars each. He offered some to department stores in Philadelphia and orders increased so much that Darrow decided to try to sell the game to a manufacturer. 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 him down, saying 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 make the game and hired a friend to produce five thousand copies. He had orders to fill from department stores including the famous New York toyshop, FAO. Schwarz. One customer, who was 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 Barton, then president of Parker Brothers. Mr Barton listened to his wife and bought a copy of the game. He went back to Darrow and offered to buy the game and give Darrow royalties on all sets sold. Darrow accepted and gave his consent to a shorter variation of the game.
The royalties from Monopoly made Charles Darrow a millionaire, the first games inventor to make that much money. Parker Brothers bought Lizzie’s game for $500, with no royalties, but with 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 and then stopped. This is why today we have Monopoly as one of the best selling, most well known board games and not The Landlord’s Game.