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Most of us think we know a little bit about Monopoly. The game is ubiquitous and has caused countless families to bear hours of “family fun time” while Dad hoards all the money and laughs maniacally as he systematically destroys everyone (never fast enough for the game to be over in a reasonable period of time). But while most people assume that Monopoly was a Parker Brothers invention, the real history of Monopoly is more colorful (and more Communist) than you could imagine.
Long before it was made into a movie, Monopoly began life as The Landlord’s Game, created by Elizabeth Magie in 1904. Unlike the current aim of taking all the land and money, The Landlord’s Game was a cooperative venture in which players tried to block monopolies. Players had to pay taxes into the public treasury, sell off their utilities to the government, they could only win when the player with the least amount of money had doubled his or her wealth. Magie was a big fan of Henry George, a politician and economist who wrote about these ideas and was widely considered a dangerous radical.
The process of going from cooperative wealth sharing to capital land grab was a long one, but it started in schools. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania first began using the game as a teaching aid in his classes in 1906. Students started to change the rules and make their own boards, personalizing to the cities they lived in. It was considered very important that the game was never sold, but rather shared, as it seemed against the spirit of the game to make a profit off of it. Students added the concept of building on properties, of grouping properties together, and by the 1920s the game had turned into something like the Monopoly we know today (including the name).
Here’s where things get shady. The game passed through a few different variations at this point until it hit the hands of Charles Darrow, who would later go on to Parker Brothers fame. He got a patent and started selling the game in much the same form as we know it now. But Magie’s original version was still floating around, so in 1932 Darrow bought Magie’s patent for $500 and an agreement to publish both versions. The original set of rules quickly died off, and we were left with the story that Darrow invented the game.
If you want to stick it to Parker Brothers, check out this recreation of the rules based on the 1904 patent from Magie.