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The History of Monopoly

Many geeks groan at the board game Monopoly; it’s a friendship killer, it’s a poorly designed game, you name it. I’ve heard people say all sorts about it, but that doesn’t stop the fact it’s been around the block. Over the years, Monopoly went from the de facto board game for families to one that doesn’t get any recognition at all. However the history of Monopoly is pretty interesting, especially considering it was designed to be educational in its own weird way. So how did the property buying game come to be and let’s also have a look at some of the variants out there.

The Landlord’s Game

Monopoly’s origins comes from a board game patented in 1904, with the game having been designed in 1902, by Elizabeth Magie. She designed the game to show how landlords get richer and the poor get poorer; showing that the system of buying land and renting it out was an excellent money spinner. She fought against a lot of the ideas of the time, including being a progressive feminist, which was hugely radical back in these days. This is exactly why she made The Landlord’s Game; a game where she could point out the flaws and issues with the concept of capitalism. It was a way to fight back against industrialists. Elizabeth used the concept of capitalism, of ownership, applying it to a board game, making it arguably the first game where you can “own” a tile, in a clear comparison to the industries she was educating people about…

… So how on Earth did a game with such strongly educational ethics turn into Monopoly?

The Beginnings of ‘Monopoly’

Pokemon Monopoly

Initially the game spread by word of mouth, with Magie patenting the game on different occasions (due to the patent running out). Magie would continue to improve on her game, but as the game spread by word of mouth, there were a lot of variants of the game created, as it was easier to create the game than it was to obtain the game. This also meant people could change parts, such as the property names. Magie created the concept of the tiles being affiliated with different real life areas (at the time she made this change, the board game was based on New York). She also approached the Parker Brothers many times, but they had refused it several times. It’s worth noting that George Parker, whilst turned the game down for it being too political, urged her to patent the game again, allowing her to keep control of her title she worked so hard for.

Everyone from university students and educators, through to Quakers were thought to have made copies of the game, adding their own rules and changing elements here and there. It was during this time that it was passed around from person to person, until a man called Charles Darrow got a hold of the title and began to distribute it under the name of Monopoly. Darrow had designed the Title Deed cards, the Community Chest and Chance cards and the famous Locomotive, light bulb and tap put on the railways and utilities.

Around 1935, Parker Brothers heard about how well the Charles Darrow version of the game was selling (yes, they even refused his “Monopoly”). When they went to discuss distributing the game, they then found that Charles didn’t own the patent for Monopoly, due to Magie’s previous patent. As such, they bought the patent from Magie and that is when they started to market the game as Monopoly. Everything after this is basically Parker Brothers using their legal powers to ensure they could sell it, as well as setting up license agreements, so they can keep reselling the game – and that’s kind of where the story ends. Kind of.

You can make the argument that there’s still lots of time for Monopoly left, but a lot of geeks would rather see the above happen. Whatever your thoughts of Monopoly, there’s no doubt it’s had a storied past. I find it fascinating how a game that was made to warn against a capitalist system was turned into a massive money spinner itself. When all is said and done, remember Elizabeth Marie’s contributions to board games, as well as the initial message. If you’re a fan of Monopoly, or a staunch opponent of the game, leave your thoughts below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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