In 1903, Lizzie Magie applied for a patent on a game called The Landlord’s Game with the object of showing that rents enriched property owners and impoverished tenants. She was granted the patent for the game in January 1904 and it became one of the first board games to use a “continuous path”, without clearly defined start and end spaces on its board. Another innovation in gameplay attributed to Magie is the concept of “ownership” of a place on a game board, such that something would happen to the second (or later) player to land on the same space, without the first player’s piece still being present.
Although The Landlord’s Game was patented, and some hand-made boards were made, it was not actually manufactured and published until 1906, by the Economic Game Company of New York. Magie submitted an edition published by the Economic Game Company to Parker Brothers around 1910, which George Parker declined to publish. In the UK, it was published in 1913 by the Newbie Game Company under the title Brer Fox an’ Brer Rabbit. Shortly after the game’s formal publication, Scott Nearing, a professor in what was then known as the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, began using the game as a teaching tool in his classes. A former student of Nearing, Rexford Guy Tugwell, also taught The Landlord’s Game at Wharton, and took it with him to Columbia University.
A shortened version of Magie’s game, which eliminated the second round of play that used a Georgist concept of a single land value tax, had become common during the 1910s, and this variation on the game became known as Auction Monopoly. The auctioning part of the game came through a rule that auctioned any unowned property to all game players when it was first landed on. In the current game of Monopoly an auction takes place only when an unowned property is not purchased outright by the player that first lands on it.
That same decade, the game became popular around the community of Reading, Pennsylvania. Another former student of Scott Nearing, Thomas Wilson, taught the game to his cousin, Charles Muhlenberg, around 1915 1916. The original patent on The Landlord’s Game expired in 1921 and by this time, the hand-made games became known simply as Monopoly.
Simultaneous to these events, Magie moved back to Illinois and married Andrew Phillips. She moved to the Washington, D.C. area with her husband by 1923, and re-patented a revised version of The Landlord’s Game in 1924 (under her married name, Elizabeth Magie Phillips). This version, unlike her first patent drawing, included named streets (though the versions published in 1910 based on her first patent also had named streets). Magie sought to regain control over the plethora of hand-made games. For her 1924 edition, a couple of streets on the board were named after Chicago streets and locations, notably “The Loop” and “Lake Shore Drive”. This revision also included a special “monopoly” rule and card that allowed higher rents to be charged when all three railroads and utilities were owned, and included “chips” to indicate improvements on properties. Magie again approached Parker Brothers with her game, and George Parker again declined, calling the game “too political.” Charles Muhlenberg and his wife, Wilma, taught the game to Wilma’s brothers, Louis and Ferdinand “Fred” Thun, in the early 1920s.
After the Thuns learned the game, they began teaching its rules to their fraternity brothers at Williams College around 1926. Daniel W. Layman then commercially produced and sold the game, starting in 1932, with a friend in Indianapolis, who owned a company called Electronic Laboratories. This game was sold under the name The Fascinating Game of Finance (later shortened to Finance). Layman later sold his rights to the game, which was then licensed, produced and marketed by Knapp Electric. The published board featured four railroads (one per side), Chance and Community Chest cards and spaces, and properties grouped by symbol, rather than color. Also in 1932, one edition of The Landlord’s Game was published by the Adgame Company with a new set of rules called Prosperity, also by Magie.
It was in Indianapolis that Ruth Hoskins learned the game, and took it back to Atlantic City. After she arrived, Hoskins made a new board with Atlantic City street names and railroads. Among the group taught the game by Hoskins were Eugene Raiford and his wife, who took a copy of the game with Atlantic City street names to Philadelphia. Due to the Raifords’ unfamiliarity with streets and properties in Philadelphia, the Atlantic City-themed version was the one taught to Charles Todd, who in turn taught Esther Darrow, wife of Charles Darrow.
After learning the game, Darrow then began to distribute the game himself as Monopoly. He initially made sets of the Monopoly game by hand with the help of his first son, William Darrow, and his wife. Charles Darrow drew the designs with a drafting pen on round pieces of oilcloth, and then his son and his wife helped fill in the spaces with colors and make the title deed cards and the Chance cards and Community Chest cards. As demand for the game grew, Darrow contacted a printing company, Patterson and White, which printed the designs of the property spaces on square carton boards. Darrow’s game board designs included elements later made famous in the version eventually produced by Parker Brothers, including black locomotives on the railroad spaces, the car on “Free Parking”, the red arrow for “Go”, the faucet on “Water Works”, the light bulb on “Electric Company”, and the question marks on the “Chance” spaces. While Darrow received a copyright on his game in 1933, its specimens have disappeared from the files of the United States Copyright Office, though proof of its registration remains.
Darrow first took the game to Milton Bradley and attempted to sell it as his personal invention. They rejected it in a letter dated May 31, 1934. After Darrow sent the game to Parker Brothers later in 1934, they rejected the game as “too complicated, too technical, [and it] took too long to play”. Darrow received a rejection letter from the firm dated October 19, 1934. During this time, the “52 design errors” story was invented as a reason why Parker rejected Monopoly, but this has more recently been proven to be part of the Parker-invented “creation myth” surrounding the game.
In early 1935, however, the company heard about the game’s excellent sales during the Christmas season of 1934 in Philadelphia and at F.A.O. Schwarz in New York City. Robert Barton, President of Parker Brothers, contacted Darrow and scheduled a new meeting in New York City. On March 18, Parker Brothers bought Darrow’s game, helped him take out a patent on it, and purchased his remaining inventory. By April, 1935, the company had learned that Darrow was not the sole inventor of the game, but sought out an affidavit by Darrow to repeat his statements to the contrary, and thus bolster their claim to the game. Parker Brothers subsequently decided to buy out Magie’s 1924 patent and the copyrights of other commercial variants of the game to claim that it had legitimate undisputed rights to the game.
Monopoly was first marketed on a broad scale by Parker Brothers in 1935. A Standard Edition, with a small black box and separate board, and a larger Deluxe Edition, with a box large enough to hold the board, were sold in the first year of Parker Brothers’ ownership. These were based on the two editions sold by Darrow. Parker Brothers sets were the first to include die-cast metal tokens for playing pieces, initially using a battleship, a cannon, a clothes iron, a shoe, a top hat, and a thimble. George Parker himself rewrote many of the game’s rules, insisting that “short game” and “time limit” rules be included. On the original Parker Brothers board (reprinted in 2002 by Winning Moves Games), there were no icons for the Community Chest spaces (the blue chest overflowing with gold coins came later) and no gold ring on the Luxury Tax space. Nor were there property values printed on spaces on the board. The Income Tax was slightly higher (being $300 or 10%, instead of the later $200 or 10%). Some of the designs known today were implemented at the behest of George Parker. The Chance cards and Community Chest cards were illustrated (though some prior editions consisted solely of text), but were without “Rich Uncle Pennybags”, who was introduced in 1936.
Over 250 million sets of Monopoly ® have been sold since its invention and the game has been played by over half a billion people, making it possibly the most popular board game in the world.