48. Monopoly

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June 10, 2013 by bdetienne

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I stopped by my local library recently to pick up a couple of books I desired to read. One of the books was in the Sports and Games section and as I was perusing the shelves to locate it came across another book whose cover caught my attention. The cover resembled a Monopoly board (who would not be drawn in by that?) and upon closer inspection saw that the book was about Monopoly. I added Philip E. Orbanes’ Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How It Got That Way to my haul and headed for the checkout counter.

Monopoly is one of my favorite games to play. I learned to play growing up with the copy my parents had and continued to play with friends as I got into high school and then after I left for college. One of my favorite memories of college, actually involves the the game as one of my accounting professors used the game to teach basic financial accounting practices. It is one of the rare games that has endured the test of time (80 years and counting!) and become popular to several generations of people around the world. One can still purchase the game, including alternate versions and games based on parts of the original game, at their local Wal-Mart or Target or online. That is now, but how did the game come about? And how did it become one of the most iconic games in the world?

Orbanes, a Monopoly expert who often presides over Monopoly championship events in the United States and around the world, provides a well-researched and insightful book that answers these questions and more. I learned several things about Monopoly that I did not know previously, such as:

1. Monopoly was not invented by Charles Darrow in 1935, as most people believe, but rather in 1903 by Lizzie Phillips. Entitled The Landlord’s Game, she envisioned the game as a tool to teach others the benefits of an anti-capitalist society and the game became fairly popular throughout socialist communities in the Northeast United States. As the years went on, others who had come across the game made some modifications and attempted to market it themselves but never very successfully. Darrow and his wife learned to play one of the later revisions of the game from some friends of theirs and they enjoyed it immensely. In fact, Darrow was so fond of the game that he designed his own board and began selling it (under the name Monopoly). He only sold a few copies at first but sales exploded after he convinced department stores in Philadelphia to include it on their shelves. Parker Brothers purchased the game from Darrow and the rest, as they say, his history.

2. Parker Brothers initially declined the offer to produce both Phillips’ and Darrow’s versions of the game. Only after the game took off in Philadelphia did they reconsider and purchase the game from Darrow.

3. The iconic mascot of the game, Mr. Monopoly, was inspired by financier J.P. Morgan.

4. The game’s properties are named after Atlantic City streets and properties (some of which still exist today).

5. Monopoly actually played a part in Britian’s victorious war efforts in World War II. Working with the British Secret Service agency MI9, Monopoly’s British manufacturer Waddington, Ltd. inserted tools inside of Monopoly games. The games were sent to various POW camps throughout Nazi territory and since they were viewed as “peacekeeping items” that would keep the morale of the prisoners up, the Nazis did not search the games. It is likely that thousands of British troops escaped the camps as a result of the smuggled-in tools.

These are only a few of the facts that emerge during Orbanes’ story. If you are a fan of Monopoly or of history itself (particularly the early 1900’s American history), I would recommend this book. You will come away with a deeper appreciation of the game the next time you sit down and play it.

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