Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Monopoly Way Back When

QUESTION: I recently purchased a box lot at a country auction. In it I discovered a piece of oil cloth on which seems to be drawn a game board much like the one used for Monopoly. However, the names of the streets aren’t the same. Can you tell me anything about this?

ANSWER: What you’ve uncovered is an old game board from the early days of Monopoly.  Before Charles Darrow of Philadelphia commercialized the game and sold the rights to Parker Brothers, people made up their own game boards and used odds and ends for playing pieces.

It all began when Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie Phillips created a game called “The Landlord’s Game” in 1904. As a proponent of the economic ideas of Henry George, she designed her game to teach the single-tax theory as an antidote to the evils inherent in monopolistic land ownership. It caught on with college students who played it in their dormitory rooms. But since they were often low on cash, they made their own boards.

The Landlord’s Game came in two parts: The first was like Monopoly, a game in which there’s only one winner. But in the second part the game employs the same capitalistic principles but mixes them with a healthy dose of tax reform, to prevent the evils of monopolistic ownership, and then transforms all the players into enlightened winners.

While the game board resembles the one for Monopoly, the names, drawings, colors and the like used on it are different. It’s painted with blocks for rental properties such as "Poverty Place" (rent $50), "Easy Street" (rent $100) and "Lord Blueblood's Estate " (no trespassing - go to jail). There are banks, a poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the "Soakum Lighting System" ($50 for landing it) and the "PDQ Railroad" (fare $100). And, of course, there’s the famous "Jail" block. Players could only rent properties on Phillips's board, not acquire them. Otherwise, there’s little difference between The Landlord’s Game and the Monopoly of today.

After Phillips published her game in 1923, it became popular as a grass roots movement. One of the people who became addicted to the game was Ruth Hoskins, a young Quaker woman from Indiana who went to teach at the Atlantic City Friends School in the Fall of 1929. Earlier that year, she learned to play a version of the Landlord's Game, called Auction Monopoly, from her brother, who learned it at college. Early in 1930, Hoskins taught it to her fellow teacher Cyril Harvey and his wife, Ruth, and the Harveys played it with their friends Jesse and Dorothea Raiford. It was Ruth Harvey who drew the first Atlantic City Monopoly board with Atlantic City street names.

The Harveys lent their games to Quakers staying at Atlantic City hotels and also taught their relatives, Ruth and Eugene Raiford, who, in turn taught their friend, Charles Todd, a manager of one of the hotels. Todd then taught the game to his hotel guests Esther and Charles Darrow.

Darrow liked the game so much, he enhanced the design and made 5,000 sets by hand in his basement. He sold these to Wanamaker’s, a highly regarded Philadelphia department store, as well as F.A.O. Schwartz, New York’s famous toy store. A friend of Sally Barton, the wife of the president of Parker Brothers, told her about this new game and the rest, as they say, is history.

The royalties from sales of Monopoly soon made Darrow a millionaire and newspapers touted Darrow as the inventor of Monopoly. And while he made lots of money from it, all he did was organize the game and sell it. Since Phillips had actually created a different game, albeit similar, she had no rights to the game of Monopoly, which had been developed by many people over time, much like the Linux operating system for computers.

For more information, read Pass Go and Collect on Early Monopoly Games.

1 comment:

Elissa Cruz Joe said...

I need help finding out about a couple of Monopoly memorabilia pieces I have and cannot find anything similar. Help.