Tag Archives: Anti-Monopoly


Here’s my take on the PBS Monopoly doc (Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History) that first aired on February 20th. In general, I would say it was quite good and the best of its kind, certainly 100x better than the History Channel doc The Toys That Built America (which seemed like an infomercial for Hasbro and included numerous historical distortions and omissions, bordering on outright fabrication).

If someone is unaware of the history of the game, this would be an excellent starting point– with a few caveats.

FYI there are two schools of thought regarding Monopoly history, first the corporate viewpoint as espoused first by Parker Brothers, and then Hasbro. At first this was to falsely claim that Charles Darrow was the sole inventor, but later morphed, in the face of undeniable facts to the contrary, into simply preserving the Monopoly trademark and intellectual property above all else.

The second point of view is the revisionist one as put forth first by Dr. Ralph Anspach, who uncovered the true history of the game after he was sued by Parker Brothers over his game Anti-Monopoly. It is thanks to Anspach that we now know that Monopoly was a simplification of The Landlord’s Game, created by Elizabeth Magie (Phillips) and how it morphed over a 30-year time span in the hands of its small but growing band of devoted players.

However, IMHO Anspach later drew some conclusions that went too far in his book, which was eventually called The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle.

With Anspach in retirement (he died in 2022 in his 90s), the Swindle cudgel was taken up by journalist Mary Pilon in her book The Monopolists. She figures prominently in the PBS doc.

Phil Orbanes was also among the talking heads in the doc. A long time Parker Brothers employee, he became their de facto historian and told his corporate bosses that the true history of the game could not hurt them, because the firm (in the 1930s) had legitimately bought up all the intellectual property rights there were to be had, including Elizabeth Magie Phillips’ second Landlords Game patent.

The PBS doc goes to great lengths to give both Elizabeth Magie Phillips and Dr. Ralph Anspach their due, which is very commendable.

Unfortunately, the Swindle approach ultimately dominates the doc, whose title “Ruthless,” plays into that theme. (Just who is supposed to have been ruthless is not specified in the doc, unless it is the Monopoly players themselves in their desire to win at the other players’ expense. However, by implication, I think we are supposed to believe that Darrow and Parker Brothers were ruthless.)

And the crux of the Swindle idea is that Parker Brothers cheated Elizabeth Magie Phillips out of millions of dollars that were rightfully hers, by paying her a mere $500 (a figure that the doc emphasizes by having several of the talking heads repeat it in a sequence of jump cuts) for her second Landlord’s Game patent in 1935. This purchase made it possible for Parker Brothers to monopolize Monopoly.

However, my research shows that rather than being a naïve person who was duped and swindled, Elizabeth Magie Phillips knew exactly what she was doing in this sale, and manipulated the situation to get exactly what she wanted. Unfortunately, the nuances of the true story do not fit easily into the historical narrative of Monopoly history that everyone apparently wants to hear nowadays, regardless of whether it is actually what happened.

Mrs. Phillips was a devoted follower of economist Henry George, and the Georgists were anti-monopolists. And what is a patent, if not a legalized monopoly? Phillips took out various patents in her lifetime, but made no attempt to enforce any of them or profit from them as legalized monopolies. Why? She was only interested in the recognition, and in receiving proper credit for her inventions.

By the time George S. Parker met with her to purchase her patent, Parker Brothers had been selling Monopoly for several months, in ever increasing quantities. She was made aware of the Monopoly patent filing by people she knew who worked in the patent office, and she knew that Parker Brothers needed the rights to her 1924 patent in order for the Monopoly patent to be approved (as an improvement).

She waited until three different firms (Parker, Milton Bradley, and Knapp Electric) had approached her before agreeing to meet with any of them, and the only firm she wanted to deal with was Parker Brothers, as she had some previous history with the firm and was an admirer of founder George S. Parker, the “King of Games.”

By this time, Parker Brothers was aware that Charles Darrow was not the actual inventor of Monopoly, and they were prepared to cut him out of the action if necessary. (This is abundantly made clear by their production in late 1935 of the game Fortune, which was essentially Monopoly, but without anything that Charles Darrow make any claim to having added to the game.)

Parker Brothers would have willingly given her a royalty on sales of Monopoly if she had wanted that, but apparently, she didn’t. She wanted the firm to produce her Landlord’s Game instead and only asked for a token $500 payment for her patent rights. Accepting a royalty would have gone against her Georgist beliefs and might have undermined her position in the movement, where she was quite active.

Her desire was to educate the public about the philosophy of Henry George, and not through some watered down version of her game. Besides which, she didn’t need the money– she had married a wealthy publisher, the mysterious Albert Phillips, head of the Climax Publishing Company, some of whose publications skirted the edge of the law.

And due possibly to limitations of time, the doc does not really give Darrow enough credit for taking what was a handmade game, and transforming it with an attractive layout and handsome graphics, adding the iconic metal tokens, etc., that were so good that Parker Brothers only needed to make a few changes. Darrow was not the inventor of Monopoly, but he was certainly an important developer of the game. Elizabeth Magie Phillips invented The Landlord’s Game, and set the wheels in motion that eventually resulted, 30 years later, and with the help of the early Monopoly players, in the game we know today that first conquered America, and then the world.

If you compare the crude handmade Monopoly board made by Charles Todd with the 1935 Darrow Black Box version (which Parker Brothers put into production with very few changes), Charles Darrow’s contribution becomes a lot more obvious.

Without Darrow’s contribution as a developer and marketer of Monopoly, it’s possible to imagine a completely different path and outcome for the game– one where a single manufacturer and version, such as Parker Brothers’, does not dominate the marketplace, but a more fractured situation resulted, as it did in the history of other “crazes,” like Tiddlywinks, Ping Pong, and Mah Jongg.

The point that the PBS documentary uses to underscore the “Swindle” idea at the end, is what Mrs. Phillips put on her 1940 census form– that she was a “maker of games,” but that her income was “zero.” But this only makes sense if you want to believe that she wanted to make money off her various games in the first place.  This can be used just as easily to support my contention that she did not want to make money off her games.

At the beginning of Ruthless, the show discusses how 19th century board games were intended to be both moral and educational. Much of the success of Parker Brothers resulted from taking a different approach– that games should be fun to play. But while the documentary goes to great lengths to portray Elizabeth Magie as a modern woman, far ahead of her time, she was also a Victorian, and ultimately, she wanted her games to be moral and educational, as the Victorians did.

Stephen Ives replies:

Dear David,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments about my film Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History, and kudos for keeping up such an interesting website on the history of the game. Here is my response.

First, the title. Yes, it definitely refers to the way you have to play Monopoly in order to win, but it is also a reference to the strategy Parker Brothers employed to protect their best-selling game. Robert Barton practiced what can only be described as a “catch and kill” approach to games like Finance and Inflation, not to mention the folk boards he is supposed to have purchased. He was on a mission to expunge any record of The Landlord’s Game because he knew that Parker Brother’s claim to the game rested on shaky legal ground.

I take issue with your characterization that, in her deal with Parker Brothers, Lizzie Magie got “exactly what she wanted.” Magie was furious when she saw Darrow taking credit for her game and went to the press to try and set the record straight. When George Parker swooped in, in damage control mode, he was able to exploit Lizzie’s admiration for him and his company, but also her fervent desire to advance the ideas of Henry George. It is not hard to imagine Parker using this as leverage and making promises that appealed to Magie’s principles and, let’s be honest, her ego to extract the best deal possible. But $500? For the rights to what Parker knew was on track to be the best-selling board game in memory? Even if Magie’s ultimate goal wasn’t money, this to me, is the equivalent of interrogating a witness without her lawyer present. Maybe Phil Orbanes can speak to what the typical royalty offer was on a hot game that was sought by multiple companies. I am pretty sure it wasn’t zero.

And the fact that Parker Brothers issued the game Fortune tells me not that they were willing to walk away from Darrow – they had invested too much in his false narrative, and his fraudulent rags-to-riches story was a powerful selling tool in the Depression – but they were simply covering their bets in case Lizzie proved unpersuadable. Phil Orbanes and I also disagree about Easy Money, the version of Monopoly published by Milton Bradley. This game was a major threat to Parker Brothers, issued by their biggest competitor. Parker Brothers at first challenged the Milton Bradley game and then agreed to a license with Milton Bradley. Phil argues that licensing your patent to another company strengthens the legitimacy of that patent. Since Darrow’s 1935 patent was little more than a façade designed to obscure the fact that Monopoly had been in the public domain for decades, this may be true, but it seems more logical to me that Parkers Brothers knew that Milton Bradley knew Charles Darrow was a fraud, and they gave away some of their profits to keep their competition at bay.

You make a good point about a patent being, in effect, a monopoly created by the government, but patents, by definition, have a time limit, and Henry George wasn’t anti-capitalist, just opposed to the idea of entire industries and markets being controlled, indefinitely, but people like Andrew Carnegie. But the ultimate point is that even if Lizzie thought she was getting her Georgist principles validated by Parker Brothers, it is clear from their actions after signing the deal that they had no plans to honor that commitment. Granted, Lizzie’s two other games that they published may have died not because they were improperly marketed but because they weren’t good games. Nevertheless, their version of the Landlord’s Game, which they finally dropped in 1939, betrays exactly what Parker Brothers plans were. That game is intentionally designed to be totally unrecognizable from Lizzie’s original, and the company dropped Lizzie’s single tax version from the game entirely. Lizzie may have thought she was getting a good deal from Parker Brothers, but clearly, she was being exploited, both financially and in the fine print of her contract, and she was the loser on both counts.

You are right that Charles Darrow deserves substantial credit for his design improvements and for the fact that he actually got the game into places like Wannamakers and F.A.O. Schwartz. Without him, we certainly wouldn’t be playing the game we know today as Monopoly, with all of its charming and iconic design elements. And Darrow was desperate, with a son with medical issues, so it is easy to feel sympathy for his position, but in the end, he stole the idea and claimed it as his own. That has to be his ultimate epitaph.

Your final point about Lizzie is a good one. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, board games were indeed meant to be moral teaching tools. In fact, The Mansion of Happiness, which was the first board game to appear in America in 1843, was published by my great-great grandfather, William Ives, and his brother Stephen in Salem, MA. Lizzie was a transitional figure in a way. She invented Monopoly, which was the last folk game, and helped pave the way for mass-produced games whose goal was pure pleasure, but she held onto to her principles and hoped, till the end of her days, to make America a more just and equitable society. In that sense, she is a truly admirable and remarkable woman.

Thanks for your ongoing interest in Monopoly.

Stephen Ives

1936 Monopoly Origins Document


I recently stumbled upon a very interesting document on an obscure blog, where Brian Sutton-Smith explains:

Today, the “real story” behind the invention of Monopoly, America’s most iconic board game, is well-known. But, as the game’s popularity began to intensify, executives at Parker Brothers wanted to keep the origin of Monopoly a secret. LeRoy Howard, a game designer and developer at Parker Brothers, advised George S. Parker about purchasing Monopoly from Charles Darrow in 1935. During the acquisition, Parker Brothers learned that Darrow’s commercially-produced version of the board game was based on Elizabeth M. Phillips’s previously-patented creation, The Landlord’s Game. In the end, Parker Brothers purchased the original patent from Phillips for $500. The document, titled “The Origin of the Game of Monopoly,” includes a handwritten annotation that reads “Not for Publication, L.H.” and was originally marked “Confidential.”

I can shed some additional light on this. Although this 1936 document was not published, it must have been prepared by Parker Brothers as press release material that could have appeared in magazines or newspapers. Similar accounts, although not as lengthy, did in fact appear in the press around this time.

In light of the Anti-Monopoly case and various events that took place after 1948, it may surprise some to learn that this was, in fact, the official Parker Brother position on the origins of Monopoly. From early 1936 until Mrs. Elizabeth Magie Phillips died in 1948, Parker Brothers credited her and Charles Darrow as the co-creators of Monopoly.

By this time, Parker Brothers had obtained a virtual monopoly on the rights to Monopoly, so far as they were able to do so at the time. As we know today, the basic game of Monopoly derives from The Landlord’s Game, which Elizabeth Magie patented in 1904. By the time this article was written, however, her original patent had expired, and therefore it is not mentioned here.

Competitors such as Milton Bradley were certainly aware of it, however, as they issued the game Carnival in 1937, based on just that expired Landlord’s Game patent. But Parker Brothers did not want to mention it here, as it would have tended to undermine their legal claims to Monopoly, serving to have the Monopoly patent invalidated.

No mention, of course, is made of the various early Monopoly players such as the Thuns, Daniel Layman, Ruth Hoskins, Eugene Raiford, et al who made various contributions to the game before Charles Darrow learned it from Charles Todd. Therefore, Parker ascribes any and all such improvements to Darrow.

Charles Darrow, while certainly not the inventor of Monopoly, was certainly instrumental in developing the game to the point where it became successful. He brought it over the finish line, so to speak.

In order to consider what were the aspects of Monopoly that Parker Brothers considered to be Darrow’s intellectual property, one has only to compare the 1935 patent application with the similar game Fortune they issued the same year. This can be considered as Parker’s backup plan, a game that they could quickly popularize if it turned out that Charles Darrow was not the true inventor of Monopoly.

If Parker was forced to terminate their contract with Darrow and cease paying him a royalty, they would have gotten behind Fortune instead. Fortune is almost identical to Monopoly, but with a different name.

There are also different property names and, of course, this game did not use Darrow’s iconic illustrations or the distinctive metal tokens made by Dowst.

Interestingly, the 1935 Fortune has only houses, not hotels, and they apparently credited this innovation to Darrow.* But it does have both Chance and Community Chest cards. By the time this game came out, Parker Brothers apparently knew that these were not introduced by Darrow.

The 1936 Parker Brothers document summarizes, in a fairly factual way, the true origins of the game Monopoly, but leaves out anything that would have tended to undermine their legal position regarding the game. It is very complimentary to Mrs. Elizabeth Magie Phillips, who surely could have insisted on collecting a royalty on Monopoly but who, instead, sold her second Landlord’s patent to Parker for $500.

The “conventional wisdom” today is that she was cheated out of a fortune, but the real situation is more nuanced and certainly more interesting. As a dedicated follower of economist Henry George, Mrs. Phillips took out patents on her inventions in order to receive proper credit and recognition, but Georgists would have considered it unseemly for her to have profited financially from such a legalized government monopoly.

By 1935, she was already well off through her marriage to Albert Phillips, who was a successful publisher. Although she kept abreast of game patents through her connections at the patent office, Mrs. Phillips never made any attempt to benefit financially from any of her various patents. She made no attempt to stop earlier commercialized games based on her invention such as the 1932-35 Finance, which was about 90% the same as Monopoly.

In 1935, she was being courted by three different game makers regarding her 1924 patent– Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, and Knapp Electric. But there was never any doubt in her mind that she would make a deal with Parker Brothers, although she insisted on dealing directly with company founder George S. Parker, who she considered the “King of Games.”

History belongs to the living, and therefore it should be no surprise that Parker Brothers stuck to the narrative as outlined in the above document at least until Mrs. Phillips died in 1948. The very deferential tone towards her stands in contrast to the stance Parker took before buying her patent. A brief mention of Monopoly in a 1935 issue of Fortune magazine includes a denial that the game was invented by Henry George.

This kind of slight, and Parker’s subsequent building up of Darrow as a game inventor, rankled her to the point where she gave some press interviews in early 1936 that mentioned her 1904 patent. As a result, Parker Brothers took additional steps to mollify her. They agreed to publish two more of her games (Bargain Day and King’s Men) and crafted this very carefully worded narrative.

The problem is, they forgot the parts about Elizabeth Magie Phillips from their press pronouncements after she died. It was not until the early 1970s that she once again received her due as the true inventor of Monopoly, and this is in large part through the efforts of Dr. Ralph Anspach and the Anti-Monopoly case, without which much of the game’s origins would have been lost in the mists of time.

-Clarence B. Darwin

*Pictures of the game on the Board Game Geek web site show hotels, but these must have been imported later from some Monopoly set. The copyrighted rules only mention houses.

Complete “Toddopoly” Set


Here is a complete reproduction “Toddopoly” game set, inspired by the handmade Monopoly game owned by the late Charles Todd, who taught Charles Brace Darrow how to play the game. Darrow copied Todd’s game, and even had Todd type out rules for him.

The rest, as we know, is history. Darrow was not the first to try and market such a game, but he was the first one to do so successfully, and as a result, untold millions of Monopoly games have been sold.

Todd, already in his 80s, did testify in Dr. Ralph Anspach‘s Anti-Monopoly case, but his homemade Monopoly set itself was important evidence.

Because Todd’s set was of such great importance, I made six reproduction sets in 2008. Now, I have completed four more sets, with completely different components.

These new sets feature a very attractive wooden utensils box, with the word “Monopoly” engraved thereon. The game board itself is hand-drawn and colored on blackout cloth, which is closer to the original oilcloth Todd and others used than what passes for oilcloth today.

The game cards and play money are inspired both by what Todd used, and also what Darrow used in some of his earliest sets. In 2005, I classified the different types of Darrow play money as Type 1 and Type 2, and these terms have gone into wide use among Monopoly collectors ever since.

But it turns out there was an even earlier type of Darrow money, where the bills were individually made on a typewriter. That’s what I have tried to emulate here, and therefore, this is Darrow “Type Zero” scrip.

The idea behind this reproduction set is to be the sort of set that these early Monopoly players would have put into a dresser drawer and taken out once in a while for Monopoly parties.

Comparing Todd’s game and the early Darrow versions is instructive. Todd, essentially, put in the minimum amount of effort. His game board is square and has simple 2″ by 2″ squares on it, with very little in the way of ornamentation. His game cards were very simple and had minimal information on them.

Even on his first game board, on the other hand, Darrow tried to improve the game. The Darrow Round Board already has some of Darrow’s iconic cartoon illustrations on it, and the board itself would have been relatively difficult to create.

As his son William told me in 2005, Charles Darrow had some drafting experience and added the illustrations himself. Later on, he hired an artist to do additional work.

It would have been tempting to put 12 red hotels and 32 green houses into this set, but not historically accurate. The actual number of houses and hotels used in Monopoly was up to the individual, when all sets were handmade. It took some time before Darrow settled on these quantities. In one of his earliest oilcloth sets, he used 10 hotels and 44 houses. My assumption is that he changed this to the familiar amount since that was a nearly 20% reduction in the number of pieces he had to provide, while being functionally the same.

While it’s entirely possible that red and green had been used as house and hotel colors before Darrow (the 1932 Finance game had both red and green houses, although the rules did not explain the difference between them) the early game makers do not seem to have used these colors. So, for this game, we have 15 hotels and 30 houses, which are tan.

These four new Toddopoly sets are #7 through 10 in a limited series. The limited series now being complete, I won’t be making others that are exactly like this, but I may make a few more similar sets on special order.

It was difficult dying the blackout cloth blue without making an absolute mess, so any further boards I might make will be on white fabric.

I would say that these new Toddopoly sets are of overall higher quality construction than the originals were.

If you are interested in obtaining a set such as this, please contact me at:



-Clarence B. Darwin

This set includes:

1- Wooden utensils box, with the word “Monopoly” engraved on it
1- 22″ by 22″ hand drawn and colored game board on blackout cloth, dyed blue
10- Game tokens, including six colored wooden pieces, metal thimble, ring, bobbin, foreign coin
2- dice
20- Community Chest cards, including four with special wording as used in the original Charles Todd set
16- Chance cards
28- Property cards
1- rules sheet (Charles Todd rules, as typed up by his secretary and given to Charles Darrow)
1- Certificate of Authenticity
15- Wooden Hotels
30- Wooden Houses
Darrow Type 0 scrip money as follows:
$1 x 60
$5 x 50
$10 x 60
$20 x 30
$50 x 30
$100 x 30
$500 x 10
A total of $11,010

Charles Todd’s original 1932 set sold for $26,250 at a Sotheby’s auction on December 17, 2010. Its whereabouts are unknown.