Monopoly, Monopoly - Charles Darrow

The History of the Monopoly Board Game and Charles Darrow

When I set out to investigate the history of the world's bestselling board game, I discovered a trail of controversy surrounding Monopoly beginning in 1936. This was the year Parker Brothers introduced Monopoly® after purchasing the rights from Charles Darrow.

The General Mills Fun Group, buyers of Parker Brothers and Monopoly, brought a lawsuit against Dr. Ralph Anspach and his Anti-Monopoly® game in 1974.

Then Anspach filed a monopolization lawsuit against the present owners of Monopoly. Dr. Anspach deserves the real credit for unearthing the true history of Monopoly while developing his defense case against the Parker Brothers' infringement suit. 

The History of Charles Darrow's Monopoly

Let’s start with a summary from what is commonly considered the definitive resource on the subject: The Monopoly Book, Strategy and Tactics by Maxine Brady, wife of Hugh Hefner's biographer and chess champion Frank Brady, published by the David McKay Company in 1975.

Brady's book describes Charles Darrow as an unemployed salesman and inventor living in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He was struggling with odd jobs to support his family in the years following the great stock market crash of 1929. Darrow remembered his summers in Atlantic City, New Jersey and spent his spare time drawing the streets of Atlantic City on his kitchen tablecloth with pieces of material and bits of paints and wood contributed by local merchants.

A game was already forming in his mind as he built little hotels and houses to place on his painted streets.

Soon friends and family gathered nightly to sit round Darrow's kitchen table and buy, rent and sell real estate – all part of a game that involved spending vast sums of play money. It quickly became a favorite activity among those with little real cash of their own.

The friends wanted copies of the game to play at home. Ever accommodating, Darrow began selling copies of his board game for $4 each. 

He then offered the game to department stores in Philadelphia. Orders increased to the point where Charles Darrow decided to try to sell the game to a game manufacturer rather than go into full-scale manufacturing. He wrote to Parker Brothers to see if the company would be interested in producing and marketing the game on a national basis. Parker Brothers turned him down, explaining that his game contained "52 fundamental errors." It took too long to play, the rules were too complicated and there was no clear goal for the winner.

Darrow continued to manufacture the game anyway. He hired a friend who was a printer to produce 5,000 copies and he soon had orders to fill from department stores like F. A. O. Schwarz. One customer, a friend of Sally Barton – the daughter of Parker Brothers' founder George Parker – bought a copy of the game. She told Mrs. Barton how much fun Monopoly was and suggested that Mrs. Barton tell her husband about it – Robert B. M. Barton, then president of Parker Brothers. 

Mr. Barton listened to his wife and bought a copy of the game.

Soon he arranged to talk business with Darrow in Parker Brothers' New York sales office, offering to buy the game and give Charles Darrow royalties on all sets sold. Darrow accepted and permitted Parker Brothers to develop a shorter version of the game added as an option to the rules.

The royalties from Monopoly made Charles Darrow a millionaire, the first game inventor ever to earn that much money. A few years after Darrow's death in 1970, Atlantic City erected a commemorative plaque in his honor. It stands on the Boardwalk near the corner of Park Place.

Lizzie Magie's Landlord Game 

Some earlier versions of the game and patents of Monopoly-type games don’t quite click with events as they're described by Maxine Brady. 

First there was Lizzie J. Magie, a Quaker woman from Virginia. She belonged to a tax movement led by Philadelphia-born Henry George.

The movement supported the theory that the renting of land and real estate produced an unearned increase in land values that profited a few individuals – namely landlords – rather than the majority of the people, the tenants. George proposed a single federal tax based on land ownership, believing this would discourage speculation and encourage equal opportunity.

Lizzie Magie devised a game which she called the "Landlord’s Game” which she hoped to use as a teaching device for George's ideas. The game spread as a common-folk pastime game among the Quakers and proponents of the single tax. It was usually copied instead of purchased, with new players adding their favorite city street names as they drew or painted their own boards. It was also common for each new maker to alter or write new rules. 

As the game spread from community to community, the name changed from the "Landlord's Game" to "Auction Monopoly," then, finally, to just "Monopoly.”

The Landlord's Game and Monopoly are very similar except all the properties in Magie's game are rented, not acquired as they are in Monopoly. Instead of names like "Park Place" and "Marvin Gardens," Magie used "Poverty Place," "Easy Street" and "Lord Blueblood's Estate." The objectives of each game are also very different. In Monopoly, the idea is to buy and sell property so profitably that one player becomes the wealthiest and eventually a monopolist. In the Landlord's Game, the object was to illustrate how the landlord had an advantage over other enterprisers under the system of land tenure and to show how the single tax could discourage speculation.

Magie received a patent for her board game on January 5, 1904. 

Dan Layman's "Finance" 

Dan Layman, a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania in the late 1920s, enjoyed an early copy of Monopoly when his dorm mates introduced him to the board game. After leaving college, Layman returned to his home in Indianapolis and decided to market a version of the game. A company called Electronic Laboratories, Inc.

produced the game for Layman under the name "Finance." As Layman testified in his deposition in the Anti-Monopoly lawsuit:

"I understood from various attorney friends that because Monopoly had been used as the name of this exact game, both in Indianapolis and in Reading and in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that it was, therefore, in public domain. I couldn't protect it in any way. So I changed the name in order to have some protection."

Another Wrinkle 

Another early player of Monopoly was Ruth Hoskins, who played in Indianapolis after learning about the game from Pete Daggett, Jr., a friend of Layman. Hoskins moved to Atlantic City to teach school in 1929. She continued to introduce her new friends there to the board game. Hoskins claims that that she and her friends made a version of the game with the Atlantic City street names, completed in late 1930.

Eugene and Ruth Raiford were friends of Hoskins. They introduced the game to Charles E. Todd, a hotel manager in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Todd knew Charles and Esther Darrow, who were occasional guests at the hotel. Esther Darrow lived next door to Todd before she married Charles Darrow.

Todd claims that sometime in 1931:

"The first people we taught it to after learning it from the Raifords was Darrow and his wife, Esther. The game was entirely new to them. They had never seen anything like it before and showed a great deal of interest in it. Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I did and checked with Raiford to see if they were right. I gave them to Darrow -- he wanted two or three copies of the rules, which I gave him and gave Raiford and kept some myself."

Louis Thun's Monopoly

Louis Thun, the dorm mate who taught Dan Layman how to play, also attempted to patent a version of Monopoly. Thun first began playing the game in 1925 and six years later, in 1931, he and his brother Fred decided to patent and sell their version. A patent search revealed Lizzie Magie's 1904 patent and the Thuns' lawyer advised them not to proceed with the patent. "Patents are for inventors and you didn't invent it,” he said. Louis and Fred Thun then decided to copyright the unique rules that they had written.

Among those rules:

  • "Ownership of a series entitles one to collect double rent on all the properties of that series..." 
  • "Owning one railroad nets $10 a ride, two $25...until owning all four nets $150 a ride.”
  • “Anyone alighting on Community Chest should draw one of the blue cards, which will inform how much he is privileged to give to charity...”
  • “By paying $50 into the bank, one may leave the jail the first time his turn comes around again.”

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200 

To me, at least, it’s clear that Darrow was not the inventor of Monopoly, but the game he patented quickly became a best seller for Parker Brothers. Within a month of signing an agreement with Darrow in 1935, Parker Brothers began producing over 20,000 copies of the game each week – a game that Charles Darrow claimed was his "brainchild."

Parker Brothers most likely discovered the existence of other Monopoly games after buying the patent from Darrow. But by that time, it was evident that the game was going to be a huge success. According to Parker Brothers, their best move was "to secure patents and copyrights." Parker Brothers bought, developed and published the Landlord's Game, Finance, Fortune, and Finance and Fortune. The company claims that Charles Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania was inspired by the Landlord's Game to create a new diversion to entertain himself while he was unemployed.

Parker Brothers took the following steps to protect their investment:

  • The company bought Lizzie Magie's game for $500 with no royalties and a promise to manufacture the Landlord's Game under its original title without changing any of the rules. Parker Brothers marketed a few hundred sets of the Landlord's Game then stopped. Lizzie was not interested in profiting from the game but was happy that a major company distributed it.
  • Parker Brothers bought Finance from David W. Knapp for $10,000. Knapp had brought the game from a cash-strapped Dan Layman for $200. The company simplified the game and continued to produce it.
  • Parker Brothers paid Luis Thun a visit in the spring of 1935 and offered to buy any remaining boards of their Monopoly game for $50 each. Thun says he told them "...it wasn't at all clear to me how Mr. Darrow could be the inventor of a game...we'd played since 1925."
  • Early in 1936, Parker Brothers sued Rudy Copeland for patent infringement on a game Copeland had made and called "Inflation." Copeland countersued, charging that Darrow's and therefore Parker Brothers' patent on Monopoly was invalid. The case settled out of court. Parker Brothers bought the rights to Copeland's Inflation for $10,000.
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Bellis, Mary. "Monopoly, Monopoly - Charles Darrow." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2016, thoughtco.com/monopoly-monopoly-charles-darrow-4079786. Bellis, Mary. (2016, August 28). Monopoly, Monopoly - Charles Darrow. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/monopoly-monopoly-charles-darrow-4079786 Bellis, Mary. "Monopoly, Monopoly - Charles Darrow." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/monopoly-monopoly-charles-darrow-4079786 (accessed October 24, 2017).