Money on a Monopoly board. Source: (Photo by Lynne Cameron/PA Images via Getty Images)
Monopoly is one of America's best-loved board games, enjoyed by wannabe moguls, future tycoons, and families on game night around the world. It's been around for close to a century, but as unlikely as it seems for this wholesome pastime, it remains shrouded in controversy. Let's look at the origins of this beloved board game as well as the cultural impact it has had.
Charles Darrow claimed he created Monopoly and sold the game to Parker Brothers. Source: (theatlantic.com)
A Rags-To-Riches Story
For decades, the story behind Monopoly was all about how Charles Darrow entertained his poverty-stricken family during the Great Depression with a discarded scrap of oilcloth and the dream of an alternate universe in which they could become rich. As the story goes, Darrow eventually sold his game to Parker Brothers, and his dream became a reality. His story was so inspiring because it was one of good old-fashioned American ingenuity and determination. There was just one catch: It wasn't true.
Lizzie Magie was the real inventor of the game, which was originally called The Landlord's Game. Source: (theniic.org)
Lizzie Magie's Anti-Monopoly Game
In 1904, long before Charles Darrow and the Great Depression, a woman named Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie was getting extremely busy. At the time, Magie worked as a typist and stenographer for the U.S. government, but she also wrote poetry and short stories, appeared in local theatrical performances, and even invented and patented a device that modified typewriters to accept various sizes of paper. That year, she also patented a board game of her own creation called The Landlord's Game. Players traveled around the square game board, which even has a "Go to Jail" space in the corner, buying up properties and collecting rent.
Magie was staunchly opposed to monopolies. Source: (sutori.com)
A Tool Against The Evils Of Monopolies
Ironically, Lizzie Magie's game was all about the evils of monopolies. At the time she created the game, public perception of monopolies in business and their impact on the economy wasn't exactly positive. The first law enacted to prevent the formation of monopolies, the Sherman Antitrust Act, was passed just a decade and change earlier, and Magie was a big supporter. In fact, she told a reporter in 1906 that "in a short time, I hope a very short time, men and women will discover that they are poor because Carnegie and Rockefeller, maybe, have more than they know what to do with.”
Magie's The Landlord's Game. Source: (nytimes.com)
Magie's Double Rules
The Landlord's Game had two sets of rules---one for the monopolist and one for the anti-monopolist---but the goal of each set of rules was the same: to illustrate the dangers of amassing enormous wealth at the expense of others. In the text of both sets of rules, Magie railed extensively against monopolies---so much, in fact, that folks began calling the game Monopoly.
The property names are actual street names in Atlantic City. Source: (monopoly.fandom.com)
The Landlord's Game Was A Regional Hit
A New York-based publishing company sold The Landlord Game all along the east coast, often modifying the board to reflect specific cities. By the 1930s, most versions of the game were based on Atlantic City, with spaces named after local streets such as Park Place and Boardwalk. This was the version of the game that Darrow sold to Parker Brothers, claiming it was his own creation.
Today, the winner of Monopoly is the monopolist, not the anti-monopolist. Source: (nytimes.com)
When Parker Brothers released Monopoly, Lizzie Magie launched a protest, proffering her patent for The Landlord's Game as well as early game boards and rules to prove her ownership of the concept. For a while, she was given partial credit for its creation, but the American public loves a good rags-to-riches story, so she was forced to share the honor with Darrow even though his only real claim to fame was being a world-class liar. Magie eventually sold her patent for The Landlord's Game to Parker Brothers for $500, consoling herself with the idea that her board game was at least educating the public about economic inequality. That didn't exactly work out, either. Today, the game is played with the goal of one player owning all of the properties, forcing others into bankruptcy. Today, the monopolists are the winners.
There are even World Monopoly Championships. Source: (abc.net.au)
Monopoly, A Pop Culture Phenomenon
Parker Brothers sold more than 278,000 Monopoly games in its first year, six times as many the following year, and the numbers have remained strong. The board game is a staple around dining room tables and has appeared in numerous TV shows and films, including The Sopranos and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. If things get heated when your family plays Monopoly, don't worry. There's a telephone hotline to help settle disputes.
Collect game pieces to win with the McDonald's Monopoly game. (ozzyman.com)
McDonald's Gets in on the Monopoly Action
Monopoly had become such an iconic piece of Americana by 1987 that McDonald's purchased the rights to use its trademarks to create their own game. It was much simpler than the board game: Patrons just peeled off game pieces from cups or food wrappers to either win instant prizes or collect game pieces. The McDonald's Monopoly game came under fire, however, because winning pieces were extremely rare, making it nearly impossible to win the larger prizes. The game was also called out for being anti-Canadian. It seemed that some key game pieces were not being distributed to Canada at all, ensuring that an American would win. The McDonald's Monopoly game continued to be plagued by scandal until the early 2000s when it was discovered that a person working for the marketing company that ran the game had stolen key game pieces and hired others to turn them in for the prize money, from which he took a large percentage.
Monopoly got three new game pieces in 2017. Source: (townandcountrymag.com)
Shaking Up The Game
In 2017, the Hasbro Company, which currently owns the Monopoly board game, announced that they were revamping its iconic tokens. They felt the boot, thimble, and wheelbarrow tokens were outdated, so these three tokens were replaced with a rubber duck, penguin, and T-rex based on the results of an online poll. More than 4.3 million votes were cast in the poll, proving the game's popularity and longevity to anyone who might doubt it.