Monopoly – The Seedy Side

In 1973 Ralph Anspach crafted a game in response to the popularity of Monopoly. As a professor in economics he wanted to demonstrate to his students the dangers of monopolies and how antitrust laws minimise the risk of companies forming monopolies. He named his game Anti-Monopoly, and with that title found himself in a lawsuit with Parker Brothers the following year for trade mark infringement. Determined to fight the case Anspach engaged in a legal battle that lasted ten years. He won and his game remains today with the name Anti-Monopoly. The fact that he won was not controversial, but the case he provided was, and still is today.

A couple of weeks ago I shared the worst game I ever played and why it was the best gaming experience I have ever had; a crazy blend of Crocs and Monopoly. This week I wanted to look at some of the history of Monopoly. Hasbro, who now own Parker Brothers, credits the game design and creation to Charles Darrow in 1933 with the game being published in 1935. A victim of the Great Depression Darrow came across the idea for the game supposedly out of thin air. He used materials from around the home to construct his board and used the charms from his nieces bracelets as the original pieces. It was a true rags to riches story that has been shared long since Darrow's death to inspire millions. As Ralph Anspach put together his defence against Parker Brothers his research led to a startling discovery, Darrow's story was not a true rags to riches story, in fact, there was nothing true about it at all.

Charles Darrow, the man behind Monopoly, or was he?Charles Darrow, the man behind Monopoly, or was he?

The story begins with political economist Henry George (1839-97) who wrote extensively on economics and most notably, taxation. Among his many works he posited a single tax system that was devised to benefit all people more effectively. Specifically his concerns were around the ownership of properties, the values they accrue and the taxing of land. Followers of his work became know as Georgists. Skip forward to 1903 and economic inequalities are immense and monopolies a real burden for a growing economy. Elizabeth Magie was a faithful Quaker and dedicated Georgist. Moved by her religious convictions for social justice and her commitment to the single tax system Elizabeth, or Lizzie to her friends, set about to find a way to share her economic beliefs with a broader audience. It was the early 20th century and board games were becoming popular and were beginning to be used for both entertainment and educational value. This was the medium she needed to share her ideas creatively. Lizzie set out to create a game that could demonstrate just how damaging monopolies were and how a single tax system could make for a fairer and equitable society.

Elizabeth Magie Phillips creator of MonopolyElizabeth Magie Phillips, the true creator of Monopoly 1st Edition.

Lizzie designed a board that differed from the normal track style games such as Snakes and Ladders. Instead players moved around the perimeter of a square board allowing the play to continue around past the starting square, an innovation for it's time. On the corners of the board there was the Poor House, Mother Earth, and the Jail. Between corners were squares with property for rent or purchase, except for the centre square between corners which was a railroad. There were spaces where people acquired food and performed labour. As you travelled around the board you worked, paid debts, and bought services such as water and food. When you passed the Mother Earth square you were rewarded for your labour with $100 dollars. Running out of money meant being sent to the poor house and trespassing on other people's property meant being sent to the Jail.

The Landlords Game by Elizabeth Magi Phillips aka MonopolyThe Landlords Game – aka Monopoly 1st Edition

Two sets of rules were created for this game. One set played through regular capitalist competitive economics that were reflective of the world that Lizzie lived in, the other based on the fairer and more equitable single tax system. Playing through these different rules intended to show how unfair modern economics were and how they left people in ruin, while comparing them to a system that made for a better society. She named her game The Landlord's Game and it found popularity among her Quaker friends. The Quaker movement adopted the game and simplified some of the rules that made it more familiar to the game we have today. The game was played as a teaching tool in people homes with everyday items from around the house used as player pieces. The game found it's way into the home of Olivia and Charles Todd who took it upon themselves to invite people over for dinner and teach the game to their friends. It was a very successful game and the Todd's were pleased that several of their friends enjoyed their game nights immensely. Despite the popularity Charles Todd was still surprised when one of their friends called him some time later and asked for a written copy of the rules. It was surprising because a written copy of the rules did not exist and no one had ever needed to ask for them before. Despite the peculiarity of the request Charles wrote out the rules and passed them onto his friend who was, as you probably suspect, Charles Darrow.

1903 Monopoly board, then known as The Landlords GameThe original board by Elizabeth Phillips.

Darrow patented the game and sold it to Parker Brothers. The game was eventually put into production as Monopoly and went into mass distribution netting Darrow millions of dollars. To protect their success Parker Brothers went around and bought up patents of the game in its various forms including Lizzie Magie who was unaware of the success of her game and how it had been stolen from her. Lizzie tried to complain and recognition for inventing her game, but never won her case. However, more than 40 year later Ralph Anspach was able to convince the court that the game sold by Parker Brothers was not their creation or the work of Charles Darrow. The court decision meant that Anspach was not in breach of trade mark infringement because it was not Parker Brother’s game to trade mark. This decision has been held up and has been widely researched and acknowledged today.

Monopoly patent by Elizabeth Magie PhillipsThe original patent application by Magie Phillips.

Monopoly was a game stolen from a women who worked hard to teach of the vile corruption of capitalist economics. No doubt Lizzie Magie did not expect to be a victim of it herself in this way. Yet that is no reason for us to ignore her story. It does seem, however, that the rules for the single tax system were not as popular in game form. Whether they equated to a better system of economics is a different matter, what we do know is that those rules have long since fallen away and the harsh, competitive, ruthless economic rules survived leaving us the game we have today. I am not sure Lizzie wild be proud of the form of game that exists today, but regardless it was her game and not the work of Charles Darrow. Sadly Hasbro, since acquiring Parker Brothers, has refused to acknowledge Lizzie Magie as the creator of the game. Somewhat controversially this is also the case on Board Game Geek who have Darrow as the creator as well. I hope Lizzie will receive proper acknowledgement from Hasbor, Board Game Geek, and society in general. In the mean time I will continue to share the story of a lady who wanted to change the world, and although it was not how she intended, I believe she did.

Image usage via Pinterest, LandlordRockNYC.