The eBay Beat: Boondoggling (1936)

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FYI, a rare 1936 Boondoggling game just sold for $500 on eBay (photos enclosed).

Boondoggling is an early Monopoly knock-off and was also a timely political game in the 1936 presidential election season, which ran from about Labor Day until early November. It was created by a couple of college professors who were anti-New Deal. The game plays like Monopoly in reverse, where the various players try to be the first to spend all their money on wasteful government programs, or “boondoggles.”

The dictionary definition of boondoggle is:

1 : a braided cord worn by Boy Scouts as a neckerchief slide, hatband, or ornament. 2 : a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft.

According to the Wikipedia:

The term arose from a 1935 New York Times report that more than $3 million had been spent on recreational activities for the jobless as part of the New Deal. Among these activities were crafts classes, where the production of “boon doggles,” described in the article as various utilitarian “gadgets” made with cloth or leather, were taught. The term’s earlier definition is thought to have its origin in scouting, particularly in reference to a woggle.

The word quickly caught on, and was often used by opponents of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR embraced the term and said, in effect, if it will help us get out of the Depression, by all means, let’s have boondoggles.

FDR’s opponent in the 1936 election was Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who would have governed more in the Hoover mold. He lost in a landslide.

The Boondoggling game appeared briefly during the campaign and appears to have been published by the Washington Star, a Republican newspaper. GOP activist Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter and a staunch FDR opponent, mentioned it in her syndicated column.

Since it was apparently not marketed to department stores, the usual outlet for Monopoly-type games, Boondoggling’s overall construction was cheap and insubstantial, with a paper board and flimsy box. Few were sold and even fewer have survived.

I have owned a few examples of this game. I once owned the board in the collection of the Strong Museum of American Play, and sold another example to the family of one of the creators.

For a time, this was an under-appreciated game, but prices have greatly increased in the last few years.

As an anti-New Deal game, it is a contemporary of Rudy Copeland’s Inflation, also from 1936. That was a much higher quality product.

Ironically, in spite of the anti-New Deal theme of Inflation, Rudy Copeland campaigned for FDR in 1936.

While Boondoggling was not around long enough to draw legal action from Parker Brothers as a Monopoly knock-off, they did try suing Rudy Copeland over Inflation, which was sold in department stores. Once Copeland was able to find more than two dozen people who swore they had played Monopoly prior to its supposed invention by Charles Darrow, Parker and Copeland settled out of court. He received a financial settlement from Parker Brothers, along with a license to use the two Monopoly patents that Parker owned.

However, by 1937, the bloom was temporarily off the Monopoly rose, and Inflation quickly faded from view, as Boondoggling did before it.

In 1951 there was a game called Boondoggle, tied in to the 1952 presidential election, but there was no connection with the earlier Boondoggling game. I believe there was a 1980 version as well.

The various tokens used in Boondoggling had the names of various FDR advisers, popularly known as the “Brain Trust.” These included Rexford Tugwell (1891-1979), who was also an early Monopoly player.

-Clarence B. Darwin

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One thought on “The eBay Beat: Boondoggling (1936)

  1. Pingback: The eBay Beat: Metal Monopoly Money, Boondoggling Board, Stock Exchange | THE MONOPOLIST

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