Thursday, January 30, 2014

Radical Monopoly

Ever wonder why playing Monopoly often causes discord even among friends? This is a game that clearly needs a time limit, like one hour max, because once you're losing, it's really hard to turn the tide. The only way to do it, really, is to have a little luck of the dice and a sense of ruthlessness. That's capitalism! Maybe the strife of Monopoly comes directly from an earlier creation, a board game called The Landlord's Game, which was invented by a fascinating woman named Elizabeth Magie. Magie invented her game to teach about the capriciousness of land owners:

Most Monopoly players don't know (or care) that this game was originally the product of a passion for social and economic justice. In the late 1800s, a young woman named Elizabeth Magie was introduced to the writings of Henry George by her father. She eventually became one of many people who took on the task of trying to teach others what she had learned from studying Progress and Poverty and George's other works. 

Collaborating with friends in her Brentwood, Maryland community, Elizabeth Magie created The Landlord's Game. She applied for a patent, which was granted on January 5th, 1904 (No. 748,626). She explained that the game was to be a "practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences."

An unemployed fellow during the Great Depression named Charles Darrow came up with the idea for Monopoly during his experience playing The LandLord's Game:

The game was introduced by Eugene (Colonel) and Ruth Raiford, friends of Ruth Hoskins, to Charles Todd, who lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania; and, Charles Todd then introduced the game to Charles and Esther Darrow. Eugene Raiford, Charles Todd and Esther Jones Darrow all attended the Quaker Westtown School from 1911 to 1914 or 1915. The subsequent connection with Atlantic City occurred because of the close association of the Westtown School with the Atlantic City Friends' School. As Todd later recalled: "The first people we taught it to after learning it ... was Darrow and his wife Esther. ...It was entirely new to them.... Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I wrote them up ... and gave them to Darrow." 


Charles Darrow was the first to capitalize on the evolution and popularity of the game. He secured a copyright for his enhanced edition of the game in 1933. The familiar cardboard board, packaged in a white box, was produced and sold locally in Philadelphia. In 1935, Darrow submitted the game to the U.S. Patent Office and was granted a patent. The game's origins apparently were not appreciated by the Patent Office clerks. Sales of the game mushroomed, and Charles Darrow became wealthy. Parker Brothers became a major company on the profits of Monopoly.

Magie apparently sold her patent to Parker Brothers in 1932 for $500. She received no royalties because she was satisfied that the single-tax economic theories of Henry George would be disseminated around America. Parker Brothers seemed to slowly withdraw The Landlord's Game from the market, however, in favor of the top-seller Monopoly.

Source: Dodson, Edward J. "How Henry George's Principles Were Corrupted Into a Game Called Monopoly." Understanding Economics. December 2011. Web.

No comments: