Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Monopoly: Inventions by Women A-Z

What was your favorite piece? I liked the shoe.
One of my fondest memories as a girl during the summer was playing Monopoly on a blanket spread out over the lawn on a hot lazy afternoon with a friend. A pitcher of Kool Aid, cups of ice, a bag of Cheetos, some black licorice and a Big Hunk candy bar were all we needed to wile away two hours, sometimes longer.

Those were the days when most Moms only worked part-time or not all. They were happy to get a break from the kids, and Monopoly was safe entertainment. They knew right where to find us, either in the backyard or at the neighbor's when the weather was nice. I got pretty good at this game. Is it any wonder, we grew up fascinated with real estate and property as an investment? 

Charles Darrow often gets credit for inventing Monopoly. During the Great Depression he was introduced by a friend to a board game called "The Landlord's Game," which he and his wife grew to love. His friend even made the couple a personal board. When Darrow asked his friend for the rules, he was told the rules had simply been passed down. The origin of the game had apparently been lost over the years. Unemployed and desperate to support his family, Darrow took a chance. He wrote out the rules, changed the game title to "Monopoly" and filed a patent in 1935 as the game's inventor. He later sold the rights to Parker Brothers, still claiming to be the game's inventor, and it made him a millionaire.

Back up thirty years . . . 
 
Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie 
(1866-1948)
Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie of Canton, Illinois was working by day as a stenographer. At night she often taught public classes on progressive politics and her political point of view. Having come from a newspaper family (her father was a publisher, also an abolitionist), she had developed some strong political beliefs early in life. She also wrote poetry, short stories, and performed comedy onstage. She had yet to marry and would not until the age of 44 (to Albert Phillips), and had even purchased her own home and acreage as head of her household.


As an independent woman, Lizzie took her teaching seriously and thought a board game could better illustrate the unfairness of wealth distribution in America. She was tired of the super rich, men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, monopolizing the country's wealth, while everyone else struggled with income inequality. A patent was approved in 1904 for her new board game, "The Landlord's Game," which was published a year later. The game became the rage on college campuses, among left wing intellectuals, and later among a community of Quakers (Atlantic City) who added names of local neighborhoods to the board.

Original game board from 1904 patent: filed as Lizzie J. Magie

Lizzie's game came with two sets of rules:
  • Version #1: The anti-monopolist - players were rewarded when wealth was created (the morally superior version).
  • Version #2: The monopolist - players could create a monopoly and crush their opponents (the morally corrupt version).

Despite Lizzie's best intentions, the Monopolist version was the most popular of the two, and the one that Darrow took credit for in 1935. Lizzie fought back, claiming she was the inventor. The 1935 version had become even more popular, but Lizzie only made $500 in the end. Parker Brothers paid her off, absent any royalties. The Washington Press wrote, ". . . if one counts the lawyers’, printers’ and Patent Office fees used up in developing it, the game has cost her more than she made from it.”

It was not until 1973, when Ralph Anspach took Parker Brothers to court, concerning his own Anti-Monopoly game, that Lizzie's game became part of a lawsuit. The case lasted for ten years and was finally won, proving Lizzie's role in the game's creation. Unfortunately, Hasbro (a subsidiary of Parker Brothers) still acknowledges Darrow as the game's inventor.

It could be said Lizzie did so much more in her life that her contribution to the board game industry is perhaps 'small potatoes' in comparison. In the late 1800s, with many Americans worried about making a fair wage, the anti-monopoly movement was definitely growing, as was the call for women's rights. Lizzie used whatever creative means she could to express her political outrage . . . including, a robust sense of humor. As an unmarried woman, and seeing marriage as the only viable option women had to support themselves, she placed an advertisement in the newspaper, offering herself up for sale as a "young woman American slave" to the highest bidder. It created quite a stir in the gossip column, and she later made a statement to reporters, taking full advantage of the moment: "We are not machines," Lizzie said. "Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition."

For more information about Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie, you might be interested in Mary Pilon's new book, The Monopolists.




Sources:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/48787/retrobituaries-elizabeth-lizzie-magie-inventor-monopoly
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Darrow
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/business/behind-monopoly-an-inventor-who-didnt-pass-go.html?_r=0; http://thetrendythings.com/read/21429
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/monopoly-was-designed-teach-99-about-income-inequality-180953630/?no-ist; http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Monopoly.html
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/11/secret-history-monopoly-capitalist-game-leftwing-origins


Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

23 comments:

  1. Fascinating! I would have assumed a man invented it. And how the anti-capitalist intention of the game got turned on its head. I also thought it was British because I'm so familiar with the London version. I like Lizzie, and she definitely did a lot of good things.

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    1. Hi Nick. I'm glad you enjoyed Lizzie's story! That's funny you thought Monopoly was a British invention. I suppose we make the same assumptions here in America :)

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  2. She sounds like a great woman - it's a shame someone stole her hard work and despite her good intentions the monopoly version was the most popular. I suppose that says a lot about people's mentalities.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. Well....times were tough. I imagine people were desperate for anyway to get ahead....
      The game itself was fun to play in my youth; we could be pretend we were rich for the day as we bought up real estate...but I admit it was pretty cutthroat too. I remember we sometimes felt sorry for other players and we would break the rules. We'd loan money, or set up a free stash of cash on 'free parking' if anyone landed there.

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  3. Hi Sharon - this is an amazing story .. the likes of which I did not know!! How very fascinating to read about .. and learn more ... and to find out that in the end she was vindicated ... Lizzie sounds a great gal ... woman who would get on with life and do her thing .. great post - cheers Hilary

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    1. Wasn't she something? It seems she made a lasting impression on a lot of people. I'm glad you enjoyed her story, Hilary!

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  4. Oh the irony of being the victim of the morally corrupt! But who would have thought she'd be a stand-up comic too? That had to be shocking in her day.
    ~Visiting from AtoZ

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    1. I love the comedic side of Lizzie. On stage too....how fun that must have been to see! She strikes me as a gifted woman, who was not afraid to share her ideas. Lucky her she knew how to tell a good joke, a gene that passed right over me!

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  5. Amazing! Both Darrow and Lizzie had clever minds and strong principals. Thanks for this enlightenment.

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  6. I have only just discovered your blog and find your A-Z theme original and fascinating.

    Susan at: http://scotsue-familyhistoryfun.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Nice to meet you Susan. Please stop back :)

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  7. Just like a man to do something like that.(if off men at present) Seriously I always thought it was a man who invented the game, I guess she was very sore about him taking the credit.
    Wonderful write and so interesting.
    Yvonne.

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  8. We played this game for hours. Happiness and heartbreak - really is that way at times. I am so glad Lizzie invented a game with scruples. Too bad her version didn't get as big a chance as Darrow's. "A man's world thing," I suppose.

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  9. I love this woman! I have never heard of her until now but she has guts! I am one person who is not a fan of Monopoly but I know it is a terrific game. I wish she got more recognition but you have to love her get up and go

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    1. A lot of people have written about Lizzie. Maybe Hollywood will help bring her back to life for us. Hint-hint....someone out there :) Love her sense of humor and strength of character.

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  10. Thanks Sharon for this. Kudos to Lizzie. Charles Darrow? THE Charles Darrow, lawyer who fought for civil liberties? Ooosh, if so, and if it was he who swindled her out of her patent rights, I am sorry to hear this. But so pleased to hear of this extraordinary woman. We loved Monopoly as children - many happy hours giving our parents a break!

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  11. (Smile). My mind went there too and so did Google's. The computer kept trying to change Charles to Clarence (the guy you're remembering) and also Darrow to Darwin. I had to read several times to make sure my first instinct (and Google's apparently) didn't pass through! Thanks, Susan. Need to catch up on your posts....

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  12. Wow - thanks for sharing this amazing woman with us. I feel I've really learned something of importance today. I love(d) monopoly. Played it a lot as a child, and again in my early twenties when board games and cards were part of what my crowd did.

    Great M post. I hope you're enjoying the A to Z Challenge. (Seems you are, and so are your readers… I sure did) :) :)

    Sent with smiles, Jenny, Pearson Report
    2015 A to Z Challenge Ambassador
    @PearsonReport

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  13. I had no idea a woman invented Monopoly. I always thought it was Charles Darrow. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Really loved this post, one of your best, I'd say.
    Lizzie was definetly a remarkable woman, and for many reasons.

    And on a personal matter... you know, one of the characters in my story looks a lot like her ;-)

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