How Parker Brothers Bought Monopoly (AKA The Landlord’s Game) For $500 And Charles Darrow, The Guy Who Took All The Credit And Got Rich

elizabeth-magie-phillips

The earliest recognizable version of what we know as Monopoly was patented by Lizzie Magie in 1904. The Landlord’s Game,pic224885

Landlord's Game, 1903

Landlord’s Game, 1903

as she called it, featured a board with the familiar circuit of increasingly pricey neighborhoods interspersed with railroads and utilities. At three of the corners were Go to Jail, Public Park (the ancestral version of Free Parking), and the Jail itself.

The fourth corner, however, wasn’t labeled “Go” but instead bore a drawing of the globe encircled by the lofty words “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” Translation: you got a hundred bucks. Message: Lizzie Magie has a political agenda.

Magie intended her game to be a teaching tool about the injustices of capitalism. She was a fan of the theories of political economist Henry George, who thought landlords were predatory Snidely_Whiplashvillains  and advocated a “single tax” on them to replace all other taxes.

If the idea was  that the players, beaten down by exorbitant rents, were supposed to rise up in some progressive early 20 century way and defeat rockstar lanmdlords  like the Astors  (busy at that time luring the rich from mansions into rental palaces like the Apthorp), that’s not what happened.

Madeleine Force Astor

Madeleine Force Astor

Mr. And Mrs. Astor

Mr. And Mrs. Astor

. Instead, the player who accumulated the most money won. How does this teach us about the dark side of capitalism???????   Her 1924 patent for a second version of The Landlord’s Game explicitly said one objective was showing “how the single tax would discourage land speculation.”

Two new concepts were introduced in the 1924 edition. Idle Land could be bought for $100 and sold for $200, showing the easy money in land speculation. The other novelty was Monopoly, which at this point applied only to railroads: if you owned all of them, you could charge twice as much. Magie thought this would teach the proletariat that monopolies and land speculation were wicked. However, since the goal was still to wind up with the most money, a more obvious lesson might have been: monopolies and land speculation were great.

. In 1932 she unveiled a combo game called The Landlord’s Game plus Prosperity. Prosperity was played on the same board but with modified rules: taxes, jail, and monopoly pricing were now eliminated; land rent was paid to the public treasury; once enough treasury cash accumulated, private utilities were condemned and placed in public ownership. Most importantly, players could vote to switch from Landlord to Prosperity rules in midgame.

Magie’s latest brainstorm

Landlord's Game, 1903

Landlord’s Game, 1903

went nowhere. A few years later, in the best capitalist tradition,

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.

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.

Charles Darrow ripped off Magie’s ideas, sold Monopoly to Parker Brothers, and became a millionaire.

The Monopolization of Monopoly
The $500 Buyout

by Burton H. Wolfe
©1976 The San Francisco Bay Guardian

Once that was done, Parker Brothers beganmonopoly-box2 negotiations to buy up the games that superseded Darrow’s copy of Charles Todd’s Monopoly set.

Naturally, Lizzie J. Magie’s game was first. That absolutely had to be bought. Dan Layman’s lawyers explained tn-250_Mon_GB_PAF-1_Box_Label tn-250_MON_TM_BoxTop tn-250_MonopolyBox_NewEdition_BrownBox tn-250_MonopolyBox_PopularEdition_Canadian tn-300_Mon_PE-1954_GrBox_Box_Top-Modto him that nobody could claim a patent on a game called Monopoly since it was a direct development from The Landlord’s Game. Layman’s onetime college frat brothers, Fred and Louis Thun, got the same advice from a lawyer friend of theirs when they considered trying to patent Monopoly as they had developed it. What other conceivable advice could be given Parker Brothers management by their own lawyers?

So, Parker bought out Lizzie Magies’s game. Bought it from her for $500 flat – no royalties – and a promise to manufacture some sets under its original title, The Landlord’s Game. Forty years later Parker Brothers president Barton told the story of it in his sworn deposition taken as part of the Anti-Monopoly lawsuit proceedings.

“We knew that Charles Darrow had based his game Monopoly on both The Landlord’s Game and possibly something of this kind [referring to Dan Layman’s Finance].”

So, Barton met with Lizzie Magie, he testified, and asked her if she would accept changes in her game. According to Barton’s recollection, she replied like this: “No. This is to teach the Henry George theory of single taxation, and I will not have my game changed in any way whatsoever.” For John Droeger of San Francisco, the lawyer taking his deposition, Barton explained why in his opinion Lizzie Magie answered that way: “She was a rabid Henry George single tax advocate, a real evangelist; and these people never change.”

Barton’s frame of reference for that evaluation? The classic one of inherited wealth that is contemptuous of everything but unmitigated capitalism. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, the scion of a wealthy family in Baltimore; graduated from Harvard; became a trademark lawyer in a firm started by his grandfather; and won the top job at Parker Brothers not by working his way up, but rather, as he himself has admitted in interviews for magazine publication by “marrying the boss’s daughter” (Sally Parker).

The boss was George S. Parker, who founded Parker Brothers in 1883. As soon as Barton married Parker’s daughter, in 1932, he was named assistant treasurer of the company. Two years later Parker let him take over the presidency to manage the firm while Parker stood by as chairman of the board.

Since Lizzie Magie would not agree to changes already made and on the market, Barton promised her production of her own Landlord’s Game in return for singing over all rights to it. She made no demand that Parker Brothers stop manufacturing the revised game, Monopoly. She made no demands that any specified steps be taken to popularize her Landlord’s Game. She was a little old gray-haired Quaker woman. She was delighted that Parker Brothers – king of the games business, popularizer of Ping-Pong, Mah-Jongg, and jigsaw puzzles – was going to manufacture and sell her effort to teach single tax theory in a fun way. She had no idea the king was almost bankrupt and intended to save himself by reaping a fortune from one of the peasant’s inventions.

A reporter for the leading afternoon daily newspaper in the nation’s capital, The Washington Star, wrote about Lizzie Magie’s game in an unbylined story published Jan. 28, 1936. By that time she was Mrs. Elizabeth Magie Phillips of nearby Clarendon, Va. As part of the story interview, the reporter asked Mrs. Phillips how she felt about getting only $500 for her patent and no royalties ever. She replied that it was all right with her if she never made a dime so long as the Henry George single tax idea was spread to the people of the country.

The story in the Star was headlined “Designed to Teach – Game of Monopoly Was First Known as Landlord’s Game.” It would be the one and only time in four decades of newspaper and magazine articles about Monopoly that the game’s true origin would be publicized. From then on, Parker Brothers made certain, through a rigidly controlled publicity program, that every story about Monopoly to appear in print would state Charles Darrow invented it. Forty years had to pass before another journalist would take up where the long forgotten Washington Star reporter left off and put the equally forgotten Lizzie Magie’s name in print again.

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