Tag Archives: George S. Parker


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

The Toys That Built America

In the series, George S. Parker adds the metal tokens to the Monopoly game... using, possibly, one of my handmade Round Game board recreations(!), and with illustrations of metal tokens taken from the later Monopoly patent. In real life the tokens were introduced to the game by a group of children, and Darrow liked them so much that he suggested that Parker Brothers use them in the game, once they took over. He had wanted to use them, but could not find a supplier, according to his son, William Darrow.

In the series, George S. Parker adds the metal tokens to the Monopoly game… using, possibly, one of my handmade Round Game board recreations(!), and with illustrations of metal tokens taken from the later Monopoly patent. In real life the tokens were introduced to the game by a group of children, and Darrow liked them so much that he suggested that Parker Brothers use them in the game, once they took over. He had wanted to use them, but could not find a supplier, according to his son, William Darrow.

I recently watched The Toys That Built America, a four-part miniseries on the History Channel. The history was very superficial, and where do I begin on all the things they got wrong?

I can appreciate how shows like this can educate the public, and potentially expand interest in the history of Monopoly and other games. However, parts of what was shown were historically inaccurate. I would think that the producers of such shows have a responsibility to get it right. Showing Charles Darrow and saying “he calls it Monopoly,” implies that he was the first one who called it that, which he was not. Stating later that almost everything he claimed was not true does not undo the damage.

Honestly, how would it even be possible that a truthful account could undermine the validity of the Monopoly trademark at this late date?

Everything about the history of Monopoly between Elizabeth Magie and Darrow was completely left out of the story, and this is a crucial part of the story! The Quaker originators of Atlantic City Monopoly only get mentioned in passing, with nothing to indicate that they even called their game Monopoly. The series appears to have been made in close association with Hasbro and Mattel, which are huge corporate interests, almost as if they were large-scale infomercials.

They show Charles Darrow coloring his Round Board game with chalk. In real life, I am sure he used paint.

In the TV version, Darrow learns the Atlantic City version of the game, but there is absolutely no mention that anyone called the game Monopoly before he did. In actuality, the game was widely known as Monopoly for years before Darrow ever caught wind of it. Why was all this left out?

They show Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers evaluating Darrow’s Monopoly in 1934 by studying a Round Board. Darrow only made one round board, and it stayed in his family. In 1934, he likely would have sent them Darrow White Boxes.

They say that Parker Brothers added the iconic tokens to Monopoly. While this is true, Darrow suggested the use of these metal tokens, which he had wanted to use in his sets, but had been unable to find a supplier. Years ago, I spoke to a woman, 85 years old at the time, who had been in Darrow’s circle as a child. She told me the real story of how metal dime store tokens were added to the game.

Darrow worked odd jobs as a handyman during the Depression. While he was working at someone’s house in his neighborhood, he brought along a Monopoly set for the kids to play with. They couldn’t finish a game in one sitting, and had trouble remembering whose colored token was whose the next day.

So six kids each picked out their favorite dime store token, and Darrow liked the idea so much that these became the first six tokens used in Parker Brothers sets. The same metal tokens became part of the Monopoly patent, which means Parker credited the idea to Darrow. Parker Brothers did not include any of their own improvements in the Darrow patent.

They referred to the Monopoly patent as a “design patent.” It is not. A design patent was something that Milton Bradley took out for one of their early versions of Easy Money, because they were shut out in getting a conventional patent.

Monopoly was already a hit game when Parker Brothers approached Elizabeth Magie Phillips about purchasing her second Landlord’s Game patent. So it is disingenuous when the narrator in the documentary says that Parker did not know that there were millions of dollars at stake. By November 1935, over 100,000 Monopoly sets had been sold, and Parker Brothers was just getting warmed up with it.

Elizabeth Magie Phillips was a Georgist (a follower of Henry George) and they were opposed to monopolies. What is a patent, if not a legalized monopoly on an invention? EMP took out patents so she would get credit for her inventions, but to use them as a way to make money would have been contrary to her Georgist beliefs.

This is why she did not accept a royalty from Parker Brothers on the sale of Monopoly games. If necessary, they obviously would have paid her a royalty, and most likely would have cut Darrow’s, or eliminated it entirely. (See our recent post The Fortunes of Fortune, November 29, 2021>(

We can forgive how the actor portraying Charles Darrow looked very little like the balding man he was in real life, or how the actor playing the elderly George S. Parker was obviously a young man. I don’t really think Parker Brothers held a press conference when they took over Monopoly from Charles Darrow; hardly anyone knew what it was yet, and at that point, it certainly wasn’t newsworthy.

We can chalk these things off to artist license, but there is no way Darrow colored his Round Board with chalk!

I like to steer a middle ground between the “Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle” and the Parker Brothers/Hasbro corporate sides of this history. Unfortunately we usually only get one side, or the other. Mary Pilon‘s book was in the former category, while last night’s TV show was definitely in the latter. I think the truth is somewhere in between the two.

-David Sadowski

According to this series, Darrow sells out to Parker in 1934. It was actually 1935.

According to this series, Darrow sells out to Parker in 1934. It was actually 1935.

The Fortunes of “Fortune”

The short-lived 1935 Parker Brothers game Fortune is a rare and historically important early Monopoly variant, as it was briefly an essential piece in a chess game over control of property trading games, which were quickly becoming a national craze.

Why did Parker introduce a new Monopoly clone, just a few months after they took over Monopoly from Charles Darrow? Fortune was introduced after the Monopoly patent was filed on August 31, 1935. The earliest version of Fortune says, “Patent Pending.”

Shortly after filing this patent (eventually issued as #2026082 on December 31, 1935), Parker was informed by the US Patent Office that this would be considered as an improvement of the second Landlord’s Game patent #1509312, issued to Elizabeth Magie Phillips in 1924. So, to “monopolize” Monopoly, they would need to obtain the rights to her patent.

Negotiations were undertaken with Mrs. Phillips, who had also been contacted by both Milton Bradley (makers of Easy Money) and Knapp Electric (Finance). She eventually sold her patent to Parker Brothers in November 1935, after meeting with George S. Parker, the “King of Games.”

Mrs. Phillips could certainly have demanded a royalty on each Monopoly game sold– a royalty that Parker was already paying to Charles Darrow, who had falsely claimed to be the “inventor.” She did not do so, as this would have violated her Georgist beliefs. She filed her patents in order to receive proper credit for her inventions, not money.

For what is a patent, if not a legalized monopoly? And Henry George was opposed to monopolies.

The sole purpose of Fortune, then, was to put a property trading game on the market that owed nothing to Charles Darrow and his supposed improvements to Monopoly. If Parker had to suddenly cut Darrow out of the picture, they would have a game they could sell to take its place. Comparing the two games, we can see just what it is that Parker thought was Darrow’s intellectual property.

First there is the name. While he did not create the game Monopoly, Darrow was certainly the first to try marketing it on a wide scale. As an alternative, Fortune is an excellent, strong choice.

Second, there was Darrow’s board design and the iconic cartoonlike illustrations he created. Parker Brothers appreciated their importance to Monopoly’s success, and therefore, Fortune had different cartoons of its own.

Third, were the Hotels. Fortune does not have any, using 40 Houses instead. But Hotels were not a Darrow innovation– they were introduced to Monopoly some years earlier by the Thuns in their version. (See our earlier post Thun Monopoly, May 10, 2017.)

As things played out, Parker Brothers bought the second Landlord’s patent, which set other things into motion. Milton Bradley had to negotiate changes to their lookalike Easy Money game so Parker Brothers would grant them a license. (In 1937, perhaps in response to this, Milton Bradley issued the game Carnival, which was based on the earlier, expired first Landlord’s Game patent.)

Knapp Electric sold Finance to Parker Brothers in January 1936. During 1936, Parker Brothers offered a revised version of Finance through a dummy, the Finance Game Corporation, based out of their New York office. While it is not clear why they did it this way, they may have wanted to distance themselves from the Knapp transaction for various reasons.

Knapp’s Finance had been on the market since 1932, more or less at the same time, or even before, Charles Darrow had claimed he invented Monopoly. A connection with Parker Brothers would undermine that story, and therefore, undermine the Monopoly patent.

Fortune has both Chance and Community Chest cards as these were also present in the 1932 version of Finance. Darrow could not credibly claim to have added Community Chest cards to the game. (Chance cards were introduced as early as the 1906 version of The Landlord’s Game.)

In addition, in Spring 1936, Parker placed trade ads, advertising how they were now licensing their two patents to Easy Money (through Milton Bradley) and Finance (through the Finance Game Company). Fortune was discontinued.

Parker eventually sued Rudy Copeland over his Inflation game, charging that it was infringing, but this soon backfired on them. Copeland found many early Monopoly players who would testify on his behalf, and Parker was forced to settle out of court, paying for Copeland’s legal fees and granting him a license to the two patents.

Charles Darrow was forced to accept a lower royalty rate, but in turn, licensed Parker Brothers for international sales, which was a “win-win” in the long run for both parties.

Parker’s main concern in 1935 was establishing as much right to Monopoly as possible, to keep their competitors from flooding the market with knock-offs, which had happened a decade earlier during the Mah Jongg craze.

1936, the peak Monopoly year, was the focus of their activities. They fully expected the Monopoly craze to fade after that, as had happened with so many other games– but we know that history took a different turn. It did fade, but not to the point where Parker ever stopped producing and selling Monopoly. Eventually, sales picked up again.

Soon, Parker began selling Finance under their own name, and added the name Fortune, resulting in Finance and Fortune.  Perhaps eventually realizing they were wasting a good name, they used Fortune again in the 1950s for an unrelated marbles game.

I assembled this now-complete Fortune set from two different auctions, with an overall value of $1450. That might seem like a lot of money (it is), but as they say, try to find another one.

-David Sadowski

Interestingly, Parker put the Fortune board logo on a diagonal, many years before this was done with Monopoly.

Interestingly, Parker put the Fortune board logo on a diagonal, many years before this was done with Monopoly.

This 1935 Fortune board and utensils box have been reunited at last, making this a complete set.

This 1935 Fortune board and utensils box have been reunited at last, making this a complete set.

Darrow Type 2 play money was used. The total amount was $9,000-- the same as the Darrow and early Parker Brothers sets.

Darrow Type 2 play money was used. The total amount was $9,000– the same as the Darrow and early Parker Brothers sets.

Fortune's rules were nearly identical to Monopoly but were somewhat rewritten by the Parker staff, at around the same time that revisions were being made to help clarify the Monopoly rules.

Fortune’s rules were nearly identical to Monopoly but were somewhat rewritten by the Parker staff, at around the same time that revisions were being made to help clarify the Monopoly rules.

Parker Brothers saved money on colored ink, and simplified the printing process for these Title Cards, which use symbols instead of colors to denote the various property groups. Parker also began using symbols on their Monopoly rules sheets in 1936, to identify to their employees which set went with which version.

Parker Brothers saved money on colored ink, and simplified the printing process for these Title Cards, which use symbols instead of colors to denote the various property groups. Parker also began using symbols on their Monopoly rules sheets in 1936, to identify to their employees which set went with which version.

There are 16 Chance and 16 Community Chest cards.

There are 16 Chance and 16 Community Chest cards.

Standard turned wood tokens were used. These are also found in other contemporary Parker Brothers sets.

Standard turned wood tokens were used. These are also found in other contemporary Parker Brothers sets.

Fortune's utensils box is smaller than a contemporary Parker Brothers Monopoly box, but larger than a Darrow Black Box.

Fortune’s utensils box is smaller than a contemporary Parker Brothers Monopoly box, but larger than a Darrow Black Box.

The Fortune board compared to a Darrow Black Box board.

The Fortune board compared to a Darrow Black Box board.

1939 Landlord’s Game – Retail Rule Set

In November 1935, Parker Brothers made a deal with Elizabeth Magie Phillips to purchase her second patent (#1509312) for The Landlord’s Game. Her earlier patent had expired by then.

This was then used by Parker to provide both legal protection for some features of the game Monopoly, which was fast on its way to being a national hit, and the means to acquire a patent on Monopoly itself (as an improvement of the Landlord’s Game patent).

In return, Parker Brothers paid Mrs. Phillips $500 and agreed to publish The Landlord’s Game. Over the years, some historians and authors of books on game history have singled this out as a completely one-sided deal, and part of a “billion dollar Monopoly swindle.”

However, in point of fact, there seems every reason to think that this is exactly the outcome Mrs. Phillips wanted and desired, and worked to bring about. This is apparent in her later recollections of these events in a journal devoted to the late economist Henry George (1839-1897), who she revered.

She had once worked in the Patent Office, and still had friends there in 1935. While Elizabeth Magie Phillips received four patents in her lifetime (three for games, and one for an improvement to typewriters), she had made no effort, up until this time, to enforce any of her rights. Why?

Because as a Georgist, she was opposed to monopolies, and patents are a form of legalized monopoly. On the other hand, she wanted recognition for her inventions. By taking out patents, she was ensuring she would get credit for her work.

Another factor, I believe, was the publicity stunt she pulled off in 1906, where she announced to the press that she was a “love slave,” and would sell herself off in marriage to the highest bidder. This caused a sensation, and gave her tremendous publicity, however, it may not have all been to her liking, as she ultimately did not sell herself off in marriage to the highest bidder.

Instead, she hoped to parlay her notoriety into a writing career. This did lead, apparently, to her meeting Albert Phillips, a wealthy publisher at the fringes of contemporary decency and the law, owner of the aptly named Climax Publishing Company, who she married in 1910.

Getting back to the 1930s, Mrs. Phillips had made no effort, over the years, to enforce her rights to either of her Landlord’s patents. But when, after a 30-year gestation period, the folk versions of her game began to succeed in the marketplace (first with Finance in 1932, then with Parker’s version of Monopoly, which came to them via Charles Darrow), suddenly there were three different firms vying for the rights to her patent– Knapp Electric, Parker Brothers, and Milton Bradley.

Of these, the only one she wanted to deal with was Parker, and only if George S. Parker himself, who she called “the King of Games,” would meet with her personally. Parker Brothers had passed on Landlord’s previously, but supposedly George S. Parker had suggested that she patent it. She knew that sales of Monopoly were taking off, but had no need (nor want) for the money, which would have been at odds with her Georgist principles. She bided her time, refusing to deal any of the three firms until George S. Parker himself came, hat in hand.

Mrs. Phillips had made two previous attempts to market Landlord’s, in 1906 and 1932. Very few copies were sold. Parker Brothers had published one of her games (Mock Trial) in 1910. Monopoly was a watered-down version of Georgist ideas, which was developed by the players from the first version of Landlord’s. She wanted to put Parker’s marketing muscle behind a real Georgist game.

The $500 was supposed to cover her expenses in having taken out a patent, but her main reward, getting Parker to publish The Landlord’s Game, did not come to pass until 1939. The sticking point between her and George S. Parker was the rules. Mrs. Phillips was a left-winger, but Parker was a conservative, not in the habit of marketing political games. He was also a stickler for clearly defined rules that eliminated ambiguities.

By 1939, Parker Brothers had already published two more of her games– Bargain Day and King’s Men. In 1936, she felt slighted by all the Parker publicity, falsely touting Charles Darrow as the “inventor” of Monopoly. Parker agreed to put out two more of her games, and for the rest of her life, listed her and Darrow as the co-creators of Monopoly.

By then, Parker Brothers certainly were aware that Darrow was not the true inventor of the game. They renegotiated their deal with him to reduce his royalty rate, in exchange for agreeing to cover any legal expenses he might incur, defending his new patent on Monopoly. Parker also wanted to spread Monopoly fever to other countries outside the United States. Darrow granted them the rights.

Certainly, if Elizabeth Magie Phillips had wanted a royalty on each Monopoly game sold, Parker would have given it to her, and further reduced Charles Darrow’s in turn.

The result of all this was a new version of The Landlord’s Game came out in 1939, with a game board designed to look as little like Monopoly as possible. The game was not a success, and Parker still had copies from their one and only press run on hand during World War II.

George S. Parker and Mrs. Phillips could not agree on the rules, so the 1939 game came with two different sets of rules. The Elizabeth Magie Phillips version has been readily available for years, through Thomas Forsyth’s web site. We present the Parker version herein, in a facsimile version transcribed from photographs.

-David Sadowski

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.