Tag Archives: Daniel W. Layman Jr.

Thun Monopoly

Notice the bits of Berks on this Monopoly board, owned by the Thun family, which dates to the 1920s: In one corner, a man sits on a bench in City Park reading the Reading Eagle, and Reading Railroad makes tracks through the middle of the upper row of properties on this hand-drawn, home-fashioned plywood board.

Notice the bits of Berks on this Monopoly board, owned by the Thun family, which dates to the 1920s: In one corner, a man sits on a bench in City Park reading the Reading Eagle, and Reading Railroad makes tracks through the middle of the upper row of properties on this hand-drawn, home-fashioned plywood board.

“Statement of General Theory – Monopoly is designed to show the evil resulting from the institution of private property. At the start of the game every player is provided with the same amount of capital and presumably has exactly the same chance of success as every other player. The game ends with one person in possession of all the money. What accounts for the failure of the rest, and what one factor can be singled out to explain the obviously ill- adjusted distributions of the community’s wealth which this situation represents? Those who win will answer ‘skill.’ Those who lose will answer ‘luck.’ But maybe there will be some, and these, while admitting the elements of skill and luck, will answer with Scott Nearing ‘private property’.” – Preface to the rules of Monopoly (Thun version, 1931)

Brothers Louis R. Thun (1907-1999) and Ferdinand K. Thun (1907-2001) were early Monopoly players who tried to market a commercial version of the game in 1931. However, their version was too expensive to have much commercial success, and it is estimated that perhaps only 50 copies were made.

They were the first to introduce Hotels to the game, although they called them Apartments. One Hotel takes the place of five Houses in the game.



Daniel W. Layman, Jr.
(1907-1989) learned Monopoly from the Thuns at Williams College. He made his own commercial version of Monopoly in 1932 and sold it under the name Finance. This version was first marketed by Electronic Laboratories, and then Knapp Electric. 10,000 copies were sold by the time Parker Brothers purchased the rights in January 1936.

Here is a very interesting article about the Thuns and their role in Monopoly history, from the Reading Eagle, August 11, 1990:

The Thuns play Monopoly on their 1920s game board. Notice the poker chips.

The Thuns play Monopoly on their 1920s game board. Notice the poker chips.

No Monopoly on Origin

By Maryalice Yakutchik

Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not assume Parker Brothers has a monopoly on the story behind the origins of its most famous board game.

In Berks County, home of the reading Railroad, early Monopoly enthusiasts sing a different tune than that of the mega-corporation which has raked in multimillions marketing the game.

Whether or not Monopoly, as legend has it, was invented one evening in 1930 by the late Charles Brace Darrow on a piece of oilcloth on his kitchen table in Philadelphia, or whether it evolved– with several crucial stages of development having taken place right here, in Reading– is still open to discussion.

The creation vs. evolution debate is no game, and humankind has no monopoly on it.

Certainly, for Berks Countians interested in tracking down the origins of the contemporary Monopoly board, the Reading RR provides an important clue that favors the evolution theory. The property is prominent today as it was on several home fashioned pre-Darrow boards ade in the 1920s by Berks natives.

One of the earliest Reading boards, made by Charles Muhlenberg and copied in 1916 by Paul Sherk of Wyomissing, had on it the New York Central, Jersey Central, Canadian Pacific, and Southern Pacific railroads, but the Reading Railroad is conspicuously missing.

That version found its way into a number of Reading homes, not the least of which was that of Muhlenberg’s bride, the former Wilma Thun who taught the game to her brothers, Louis and Ferdinand.

The game as fashined by the Thuns was probably the first to include the Reading Railroad as well as several otehr propertiesand written rules about how to play. Prior to the Thuns, instructions had been passed verbally.

Only one of these early plywood Reading boards, probably made by Thomas and Brooke Lerch of Wyomissing, who were monopoly=playing contemporaries of the Thuns, still is in the possession of the thun family.

On that board, the likes of which Louis and Ferdinand had their own versions in the late1920s, the Reading Railroad sits between Goldberg Square and Maguire Street.

“We probably were responsible for putting four or five places on the boards,” Ferdinand recalled.

“Reading Railroad was one of them. But we weren’t the only ones; everybody who played put a little of their own stuff in.”

“It’s an evolutionary thing,” agreed Louis. “On different boards, there are different properties ans different railroads. Whoever was playing would have changed the railroads and properties to suit their particular geographic surroundings.

“I remember Wall Street and Grand Boulevard were the two most expensive properties, but that changed a couple times in the process of evolution. Everyone who made a board put in different corners.”

The Lerch board is decidedly Reading: In one of the corners, illustrated with a fountain pen or fine paintbrush, a man sits on a bench in City Park reading nothing other than the Reading Eagle.

according to the Thuns, the game of Monopoly originally came to Reading via Thomas Wilson, a local student who was attending the University of Pennsylvania. There, he encountered a radical economics professor named Scott Nearing who used an early version of the game, called The Landlord’s Game, to teach his classes at Penn about the evils that result from the institution of private property.

“Nearing was a professor at Penn around 1918,” Ferdinand recalled. “He came under attack for his very liberal views and was eventually relieved of his professorship.”

Coincidentally, about a decade later, Nearing spoke at Williams College in Massachusettswhere Ferdinand and Louis were majoring in economicsmand German, but spending most of their time playing the game Monopoly, which they had brought from home and taught their fraternity brothers.

“We had always heard that (Nearing) had something to do with inventing Monopoly,” Ferdinand said. “so after we heard him speak at Williams, we asked him what he remembered about it and he said he had nothing to do with inventing it, but that someone from this group of “Single-taxers” from the Jersey Shore had invented it. The single tax was a very big idea around 1900.

“well, one thing led to another and then this guy in Philadelphia caught up with it,” said Ferdinand, referring to Darrow. “And he signed a statement saying he invented it.

“And them Parker Brothers started this story about him in his moterh’s kitchen based on pure imagination.”

“That’s all fabrication,” Louis added. “I have a strong stomach, but I couldn’t believe that.”

All that happened after Louis’ and Ferdinand’s own futile attempts in 1931 to market the game.

“By the time we graduated, the Depression had hit full force,” said Louis. “And we thought we were going to do something with this game.

“So we had this wooden box designed at the Textile Machine Works (where he is retired as chairman of the board) to hold the playing pieces and the property cards we had printed.

“I took my board up to Saks (Fifth Avenue in New York) and asked to see the game buyer. She said to show her a short version of how it worked. After about five minutes, she said she thought she had the idea.”

Ferdinand went through a similar routine with a buyer for Macy’s, who told him it was too complicated and would never sell.

“So then we explored this thing with a lawyer,” Louis added. “But we were asked, ‘Were we the inventor?’ and we said ‘no.’ Then we were told patents were for inventors.

“Darrow had the right idea. He simply signed to say he invented it.”

Perhaps, had the Thuns done that, they would have been $22 million ahead. Instead, all they got was a free Monopoly set.

“Later, the president of Parker Brothers (Robert B. M. Barton) showed up in Reading to make sure we weren’t going to make any trouble. He had dinner at our house, and later on he said he enjoyed the dinner and that he would be sending us a sample of his best (Monopoly) set. He was searching out any available monopoly boards from the 1915-1925 era.”

According to an article written by Charles J. Adams III in the Historical Review of Berks County, during Barton’s visit in Wyomissing, Paul Sherk also was approached and for $50 sold his original 1916Monopoly board to Parker Brothers– ostensibly for their “small museum of old and original games.”

Do the 82-year-old twins feel bitter about it all? Is that why they claim they haven’t indulged in their former pastime for better than half a century?

“Nobody,” Louis said diplomatically, “should keep a grudge for longer than two hours.”

Twin chuckles emanate from the brothers who to this day are business partners.

“It’s a good game and really habit forming,” Ferdinand says. “I just haven’t gotten around to playing it.”

“The thing is,” Louis continued, “everybody has this terrific inquisitive instinct given the chance to make a million. That’s what makes it a great game.”

Both brothers lament that the game as it’s played today isn’t as complex– and therefore as interesting– as their version which incorporated the concept of auctioning properties.

Louis cited a recent newspaper article which discussed what’s happening now in the game business. Two are leading the pack; Monopoly is one of them.

Monopoly continues to evolve. It recently entered the electronic age as a television game show.

Asked if he’s watched it, Louis answered a curt “No way.”

“It’s fun to play,”Ferdinand explained, “but it’s not a spectator sport.”

Another fuzzy picture of the Thun board.

Another fuzzy picture of the Thun board.