Monopoly

Anne here, and today, I’m taking an easy way out (as I race towards a deadline) by  riffing off an article I recently read about Monopoly, the board game with which I’m sure we’re all very familiar. When I read this article I got a big surprise. You see, I’d always assumed it was first invented in the UK, because here in Australia we all grew up with the English version.

In fact, it’s pretty common for Australians visiting London to visit some of the monopoly squares. “Hey, I’m on Park Lane,” (which we all know has got to be pricey. <g>) I had no idea there was even an American version, set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and it turns out that not only was it the original version, but there are hundreds of different variations, including Dog-opoly and Cat-opoly, as well as all kinds of variations in many different languages. (Photo above by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash)

Monopoly was first patented in the USA December 31, 1935 by a man called Charles B. Darrow. But his version was based on a game invented by an American woman called Lizzie Magie, who in 1904, patented a game called The Landlord’s Game, which was, at its heart, an educational tool to teach players about taxes, and which effectively opposed the values implicit in the later game of Monopoly, where the grabbiest landlord wins. The Landlord’s Game became very popular with university students, and Darrow first came across it when his friends Charles and Esther Todd introduced him to it. (More detail here.)

Apart from the shock that the version that I knew so well was not the original, what fascinated me as I read on were the many ways in which Monopoly has been adapted and used. For instance During World War II, British intelligence created special Monopoly game boxes that they sent to British prisoner of war held in Nazi camps, containing not only the original board, but maps, compasses, small metal tools such as files, real money, and other objects useful for escaping. They were distributed to prisoners by fake charity organizations created by the British Secret Service. (Photo above by Robert Linder on Unsplash )

The maps were the crucial items. Paper maps were too fragile and also cumbersome and so they printed them on silk. Silk maps wouldn’t tear or dissolve in water as easily as paper ones and were light enough to stuff into a boot or cigarette packet. Best of all they didn’t rustle. (That’s a silk map below. Read more about this here.)

The company that produced these maps  was John Waddington Ltd. a company that was used to printing things on silk, for instance programs for grand celebrations and royal occasions. They were already printing maps on silk for airmen to carry. As well they were the  printer and board game manufacturer that happened to be the U.K. licensee for the Parker Bros. game Monopoly. Fascinating, eh?

That’s it from me today. I hope you enjoyed this brief dive into a short history of Monopoly. If you want to know more, click on some of the links in this post. Do you play Monopoly? Which version do you have, and do you have a favorite token? Mine was always the horse or the dog.

31 thoughts on “Monopoly”

  1. Interesting post. A few Christmases ago I was surprised to see versions of Monopoly based on popular tv and movie series. I ended up buying both Game of Thrones and The Avengers as presents for nephews. I have no idea if they were ever played. I expect they were made as much as to be collector items as to create any real variations on the original. I still have the version I played as a kid in the 1950s.

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    • Thanks, Kathy, I haven’t seen the movie/TV versions. I hope your nephews enjoyed them. I suspect the most valuable collectors’ items would be the old original game with the little metal tokens. Somehow the plastic ones aren’t as satisfying.

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  2. Wow, that’s a fascinating story about the WWII games sent to POWs, Anne. Having read some non0fiction books on British Intelligence Service during those war years, I’m really impressed with how clever and willing to think “out of the box” they were. They came up with some really creative ways to help win the war.

    Yes, I did play Monopoly as a kid, but haven’t played it for years. (I’m not much of a board game person) We had the American version

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  3. Anne-Fun post! I played Monopoly as a kid- probably into my teens. We had the American version, Set in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The thing is, I don’t think any of us realized that. We’ll, we vacationed in Atlantic City several times. And all of a sudden, I realized where names on board like “Boardwalk” came from: the streets on the board were real street!. And where would we all be without, “Do not pass GO, do not collect $200?” Btw-until your post, I’d never heard of Catopoly or Dogopoly. Must investigate!

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    • Thanks, Binnie Syril — what fun when it all clicked for you, and you realized the board game was based on real places.
      And you’re so right — phrases like “Do not pass GO, do not collect $200” have become part of everyday language. I wonder whether the kids today realize where it came from? I suspect a lot fewer families play group board games these days.

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  4. Definitely knew it was American based on Atlantic City but didn’t know the other fascinating historical tidbits. We played it a lot when we were younger but certainly not for many years now. My Dad bought our son the Star Wars version when he was young. I’m sure he still has it. My favorite pieces were the Boot & the Top Hat.

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    • Thank you Jeanne, I’d forgotten the top hat. They were fun, weren’t they— though the one I always thought strange was the iron. Who would choose the iron? Not I.
      I think for many people playing it was long in the past. Perhaps simple board games are less popular these days, and kids prefer electronic ones. A friend of mine plays board games with her family and friends when they go camping, which they do every summer — in tents.

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  5. The story about the WWII version of the game sent to POWs is new to me! But we played the original Monopoly game frequently when I was a kid, and I knew the street names were all from Atlantic City, where our family had vacationed once or twice.
    Those silk maps would be great for hikers and backpackers, where space and weight are a big consideration, and they would survive getting wet.

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    • Thanks, Karin — yes those silk maps would be brilliant for hikers. I suppose they use their phones and Siri these days — I don’t know what the current practice is — though it would be tricky when the signal dropped out.

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  6. Fascinating, Anne! I knew that Monopoly was American and based on Atlantic City, but never played it much. But I didn’t know about the UK versions designed to help prisoners escape! Nor about that many variations. (Now I’m curious about Cat-opoly!)

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    • LOL Mary Jo — I thought Cat-opoly might appeal to you. And yes, I had no idea there were so many different versions. The POW versions would be a real collector’s item these days, wouldn’t they? I’d love to hear some stories from the people who used them.

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  7. We had a Monopoly set in the house when I was growing up. It was the one with the New York City addresses. The tokens were made of metal, not plastic. My favorite was the Scottie dog, which dates that set to the 1940s when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and Scottie dogs like his pet Fala were very popular. That and checkers were the only games that my family would sometimes play with me; otherwise they’d be playing hearts or gin rummy and I was thought too young to play those (this was one of the things that made me a lifelong reader – I had no other way to amuse myself). Later I remember killer Monopoly sessions with my post college friends, broken only to watch Star Trek because they had a color set.

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    • Thanks, Janice. I was also too young to play most things with my much older siblings and the adults, but Monopoly was one of those games I could join in. Maybe that was also what made me a lifetime reader. I also remember the little metal tokens and was quite disappointed when a friend produced a set one time and the tokens were plastic. I suspect one of the reasons the game seems to have dropped in popularity is that it would take up a whole evening. Great in the days when there wasn’t much other entertainment, but these days it’s competing not just against TV but the whizz bang electronic games kids play.

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      • I hear that board games are making a comeback – people are looking for something they can play in person; apparently they are missing the social aspect that in person board games supply. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back 🙂

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        • That’s interesting, Janice. I know a friend of mine has sons who play on line in groups, which keeps them in touch even though they live far apart. And I had a neighbor a few years ago who had a stack of board games and regularly played with his friends as a social activity—his wife wasn’t into them. It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

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  8. Fascinating. As an American, I grew up with that version. But when my family traveled to other countries, one of the souvenirs we looked for was the local version of Monopoly, so we ended up with quite a collection in a variety of languages. One of our favorites to play was the Swiss version — if I remember correctly, it was in French, German, and English!

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    • Thanks, Jane — what fun souvenirs — more fun than tea-towels and teaspoons, which my mother collected. And how interesting about the Swiss version in three languages. That would make the board and the cards look a bit crowded, wouldn’t it? But excellent for language development.

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  9. We played monopoly in the 1950’s growing up and onward with family and friends and into college with the American version. My favorite token was always the scottie. I still have the set in my closet, but, sadly, few people have time to play it anymore.

    I enjoyed and was fascinated by your story about getting the games and escape material to the POWS in WWII. The British were very inventive and clever!

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    • Thanks, Jane, yes I think people these days have a much shorter attention span, and a game that takes up a whole evening is a big commitment. Yes, the story about the POW sets was fascinating, I agree.

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  10. I played Monopoly with my friends as a kid and sometimes the games lasted for weeks. My family played it on our beach vacations (in addition to card games such as poker and bridge). I have the original version, as well as the Star Wars and my college versions. Alas, when I married and moved to Texas, no one in my husband’s family played it. They only play poker or dominos!

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    • Thanks, Mary. There must be some secret to the fascination of dominos that I’ve never discovered. I’ve only ever seen it played by (and with) young children.
      A friend of mine plays board games every summer, when she and her family and a group of friends go camping near the beach. It’s good evening entertainment, with no electricity required — apart from light.

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  11. My family (parents and I) used to play Monopoly on Saturday nights after I learned to read, count, and add. So I’d guess first grade. My dad and I played for blood, but my mom was a social player and usually went bankrupt early in the game. In retrospect, it was quite an educational game, specifically for counting and math.

    I used to beat my dad about half the time. I asked my mom later if he was letting me win, and she said she didn’t think so!

    I remember our old board with the area where our much loved family dog chewed part of it off. She was quite a chewer when she was a puppy!

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    • Thanks, Susan — yes, it did bring out certain traits in different people. I too am a social player and don’t much care who wins, but others can be quite cutthroat. One friend of mine is positively gleeful when she thrashes you.
      How nice that you’ve kept the partly chewed board. I have a couple of slightly chewed items from various dogs over the year, and I think of that dog with fondness whenever I see a chewed item.

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  12. What a fun and fascinating post, Anne! I lived in NZ and Australia until about age ten, so my Monopoly set is the one my parents bought in the fifties or sixties. Like yours, it is the British version with metal playing pieces though I’m drawing a blank on the horse. My family moved often, so my sister was often my only playmate. We played SOOOO many games of Monopoly that I can hardly dare think of ever playing again. I do still own that set though! The board is separate from the small box that holds the money, cards, etc.

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    • Thanks, Kareni — the horse piece was a rider on a jumping horse. I’m not sure what happened to our original family set. And yes, quite a few of the British Commonwealth countries had the English version, with the various London places on the board.

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  13. Great post, Anne – I live quite near the site of the original Parker Brothers factory which began producing and selling Monopoly in 1935. A close friend was for many years in public relations for the company, and one of her primary responsibilities was organizing the annual World Monopoly Tournament. I recall it being held in New York City, London, Paris, Las Vegas, and, of course, Atlantic City! Individuals would come from all over the world to participate, and she had great stories to tell about players who wanted to play only with the kind of Monopoly set they were used to using! And there would always be a special edition of the game for the city in which the Tournament was held. Parker Bros. was bought by Hasbro many years ago now, but the former headquarters displayed Monopoly sets from all over the world in their lobby – quite something to see! Thanks for bringing back some great memories – and for taking the time while you’re on deadline!

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    • Glad you enjoyed it, Constance. I hope you’re well again.
      How fascinating that you lived so close to the original factory and saw the display of Monopoly sets from all over the world. And getting the “inside” story from your friend.
      Happy new year.

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