Recent investigations by the author Mary Pilon have revealed that the game known as ‘Monopoly’ was in fact created decades prior to its release as a Parker Bros. game. According to the writer’s research, the initial idea for the multi-million selling game was cruelly cribbed from trailblazing feminist, Elizabeth Magie.
“The story for a long time was that a man named Charles Darrow went into his basement during the Great Depression and created the game with Atlantic City properties to remind his family of vacations in better times,” Ms. Pilon told 702 ABC Sydney. “He starts selling the game a little bit on his own to friends and family in the Philadelphia area and he sells this game to Parker Brothers.”
By 1935, Mr. Darrow had successfully sold his board game to the ailing Parker Bros., who quickly capitalised on the idea previously created by Ms. Magie. Traced all the way back to 1904, Magie’s ‘The Landlord’s Game’ contains many of the critical elements of modern ‘Monopoly’. “Her game, ironically enough, was to teach people about the evils of monopoly for 30 years before Parker Bros stepped into the picture,” Ms. Pilon explained.
The author claims that Ms. Magie was heavily influenced by the emerging ‘single tax theory’.
“The single tax theory is that you should tax land and only land,” Ms. Pilon elaborated. “Henry [George], like a lot of other people, were very concerned with the amount of wealth that was being created in America at the time and was concentrated among just a few hands. Even though today we don’t know much about him, he’s not a household name, in his time he was a big deal.”
Initially, the game’s designer sought to establish a game with two sets of rules (as in real life?): monopolist and anti-monopolist.
“Very quickly, it’s the monopolist rule set that takes on as a full game,” Ms Pilon explained. “Read into human nature whatever you want but it’s a version of this game that is modified a little bit. People are playing it and passing it from friend to friend, they’re making their own set.”
“Early on there were New York versions of the board, Philadelphia versions of the board, people made it personalised. By the time the Quakers are playing it, that board looks almost identical to what you would buy on the store shelf today. Charles Todd (a childhood friend of Darrow’s) is living in Philadelphia and he lives near the Darrows and he teaches it to Darrow. It’s a game that has Lizzie Magie’s core to it but the tweaks of the Atlantic City Quakers made to it. He learns it through friends, same as everyone else, but then goes on and sells it to Parker Brothers.”
But how closely does Ms. Magie’s initial concept line up with the modern game?
“She had ‘go to jail’ and a lot of the language we associate with Monopoly,” Ms. Pilon answers. “There were railroads – that was a big concern at the time. One of the funnier things is that her original patent has a public park space because cars obviously weren’t as big of a concern in 1904 as they were later on, and that becomes free parking.”
Despite the Parker Bros.’ tacit awareness of the stolen idea, the Darrow legend lives on in the hearts and playrooms of many of us today.
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