Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Let's Play "The Landlord's Game"

by Connie Cortright

Never heard of "The Landlord's Game"? Neither have most of the entire population of our country since dating back to 1904 - the first year this game was patented. That's because we now know the game by a different name - "Monopoly". I'm sure you've heard of that one.

The 1906 version of "The Landlord's Game"
Elizabeth Magie in 1902 designed "The Landlord's Game" to illustrate the process of purchasing land and developing it. She invented it in the form of a board game so she could easily teach people the concepts. She was trying to show how unfair income inequality was by revealing the process of the rich purchasing land and making monopolies to the detriment of the poor who couldn't pay their exorbitant rent. (Sounds like she'd be a great politician today!) She wanted the board game to reflect her progressive political viewpoint.

She succeeded in getting a patent on the game, but could not find a company to publish it. So in 1906 she formed her own company to manufacture the board game. She attempted to sell the game to Parker Brothers in 1910, but was declined since it was a hard game to understand. I agree with Parker Brothers. I find this game to be very hard to get excited about.

From 1910 to 1932, the game expanded into different versions with different titles including "Monopoly", but was mostly used in college settings to teach economics and was more often handmade in the variations. Through the years, Magie tried several times to get Parker Brothers interested in the game, but was turned away because it was "too political". She did re-patent her game in 1924 and tried to control all the homemade variations under that patent. (That sounds like an impossible task)

Despite this confusing background, the game we know as "Monopoly" has been credited to Charles Darrow as the inventor. There's a story here somewhere... In 1933, the handmade version of the game was taught to Charles Darrow who duplicated it by hand several time before finding a printer to publish it. The game was becoming more popular even if the Parker Brothers didn't want to touch it. Finally, in 1935 Parker Brothers relented (after Christmas sales the year before had been off the charts) and decided to publish "Monopoly", but under a patent taken out by Charles Darrow. The game became an instant hit under the myth that it was created by Mr. Darrow.

After Parker Brothers discovered that there were previous patents and copyrights on variations of this game, they approached the other owners including Elizabeth Magie and purchased the patents and copyrights so they were the sole company with rights to the game. The early history of the game was forgotten after that. Somehow I bet they didn't receive a fair compensation given the popularity of "Monopoly" yet today.

After many years and many versions of "Monopoly", it's still a very sought-after game today. In fact, when my eldest son was growing up, he invented his own version of this game, calling it "Washington Cartel." Maybe he should see if that game would be picked up by Parker Brothers today seeing this term is often used by one of the presidential candidates.

Information taken from Wikipedia and The Secret History of Monopoly.


  1. I wonder if Parker Brothers would have been more receptive if Elizabeth Magie had been male.

  2. Probably not. I think the game was too hard to understand in early years. It was mostly used at colleges. I can't figure out why it was such a hit in the 30s - and still today. I personally don't like this game anyway.

  3. This game is being privately re-issued as to the 1906 version.