Tag Archives: Louis and Ferdinand Thun

1920s Monopoly

An enhanced picture of the Muhlenberg board, so you can clearly see the property names. It was made by Virginia Muhlenberg (1898-1999) circa 1920. In the original Landlord's Game, when you paid your $75 after landing on the Luxury Tax square, you purchased a card with the name of some non-necessary item. These cards were kept and had value for the counting up at the end of the game. This practice was soon dispensed with, and you simply paid the tax.

An enhanced picture of the Muhlenberg board, so you can clearly see the property names. It was made by Virginia Muhlenberg (1898-1999) circa 1920. In the original Landlord’s Game, when you paid your $75 after landing on the Luxury Tax square, you purchased a card with the name of some non-necessary item. These cards were kept and had value for the counting up at the end of the game. This practice was soon dispensed with, and you simply paid the tax.

I was contacted recently by two people who own remarkable pieces of early game history. One had a board, but no pieces, and the other had pieces, but no board. Although these items are not from the same set, they are from roughly the same time and place in history, namely the Reading, PA area in the early 1920s.

While the owners wish to remain anonymous, here’s what I can tell you:

The wooden game board, approximately 19 or 20″ square, was made by Virginia Muhlenberg (1898-1999) around 1920. Her brother Charles Muhlenberg brought the game to Reading, PA around 1916, and introduced it to the Thun family (see our previous post Thun Monopoly). Charles Muhlenberg married Wilma Thun.

Like many other early such boards, most of the names of the properties are copied from the original Landlord’s Game. Some have Parisian names. As time went on, more and more early players customized their boards with local street names, culminating in the Atlantic City version which became hugely popular in the 1930s.

On the other hand, we do not know who made or owned the box of early game utensils, dating to about the same period. A few conclusions can be made by studying the various pieces. The owner apparently had two early game boards, since there are two sets of Chance cards, plus eight or so extra property cards. The later set of cards is color coded by property groups, an important development. Originally, the property groups in these games were only identified by a letter (A, B, C, etc.).

The first, and presumably earlier board would have had some customized names on it, and the second board, with a more complete set of cards, had additional changes made relative to Landlord’s. And, as the box indicates, this game was called Monopoly— one of the earliest to do so, at least among surviving sets.

The Chance and property cards were typed. Manual typewriters tended not to have a “1” key, and the capital I was used instead. Some were typed in black ink, others in red. Chances are, not all of these cards were made at the same time.

It was not until later in the 1920s that the game got a second set of cards called Community Chest. In the 1932 game Finance, the first commercialized version of Monopoly, you can gain or lose money with the Chance cards, but since Community Chest was a charity, on those, you always had to pay. Undoubtedly, this was not popular with the players, and in Darrow Monopoly, Community Chest and Chance are pretty much the same thing, and even have some of the same cards. Likewise, later in the 1920s, the Thuns made an innovation with the first Hotels (which I believe they called “apartments”), each one representing four (later five) Houses.

Instructions on the typed cards are minimal, as was common practice. Considering how long it would take to make a set using a typewriter, (try it sometime), this is not surprising.  Some cards were made on 3″x5″ index cards, and others were seemingly cut down to size.

Play money was apparently made by using some sort of rubber stamp. It sped up the time it took to make a set, and early game makers continued to make cards using rudimentary printing methods into the early 1930s.

There are no printed rules, and most people probably learned the game as part of an oral tradition.

The rate cards present were made by some photographic process, but one which yielded a reversed image, more like a negative.

The rate card was sufficiently complex to not be easily copied using a typewriter, or even in longhand. Chances are, someone made a “master” copy, and it was reproduced by some early photographic method so that it could be used by many people. Back then, you could have photos printed on postcard paper, which gave it some durability.

What’s missing here, besides the game boards?  Well, since the cards pretty much fill up the box they came in, the three denominations of paper money were most likely supplemented by poker chips for the smaller amounts.  And there is no sign of any wooden houses or paper “improvements.”  (The Landlord’s Game originally had what we would term paper houses, and eventually these changed into the more familiar, and durable wooden ones.  Small pieces of paper were probably not durable.)

We may never know who made these pieces, but since one of the property cards is “Wyomessing,” (sic) and there is a town called Wyomissing adjacent to Reading, PA, there is every possibility that the owners of both this board and these pieces may have actually known each other, as well as Louis and Ferdinand Thun. Reading was without a doubt the area with the most early Monopoly players, such that, when Parker Brothers started selling the game in 1935, a local wag opined that part of the fun was in making your own set.

One additional reason I think this set is from the early 1920s is a reference to “war profits” on a Chance card. This seems to suggest it was made after the end of the First World War in 1918. War profits were not as much of a concern before there was a war.

Finding early boards and pieces such as these is quite unusual, and taken together, these items are an important addition to our understanding of how the game Monopoly developed, a decade or more before it was commercialized and became a mass produced product.

-David Sadowski

PS- To provide some additional contrast, we have included a picture of the Heap board, made circa 1913, which also has some color coding on it.

Property Cards (from two different sets- only the RRs seem to overlap)

A. Coffee Alley – Yellow
A. Nicholas Street – Yellow

B. Temple – White or Light Tan
B. Shillington – White or Light Tan
B. Mohnton – White or Light Tan

C. Plum Street – Light Green
C. Canal Street – Light Green
C. Cotton Street – Light Green

D. Billald Alley – Salmon
D. Gordon Street – Salmon
D. Shiller Street – Salmon

E. Cedar Street – Light Green
E. Mulberry Street – Light Green
E. Seventh Street – Light Green

F. Madison Avenue – Blue
F. Master Street – Blue
F. Spring Garden Street – Blue

F. The Bowery – Salmon*

G. Pennside – Pink
G. Centre Avenue – Pink
G. Wyommessing (sic) – Pink

G. Fifth Avenue – Dark Green*
G. Broadway – Dark Green*
G. Madison Square – Dark Green*

H. Penn Square – Yellow
H. Hill Road – Yellow

H. Grande Boulevard – Light Tan*
H. Wall Street – Light Tan*

M. Con. Gas Co. – Pink
M. Met. Electric Co. – Pink

M. Slambang Trolley – Yellow*
M. Soakum Lighting System – Yellow*

N. Neversink Mtn. RR – Red
N. Mt. Penn RR – Red
N. Royal Rusher RR – Red*
N. Shooting Star RR – Red*

The wooden utensils box identifies this game as Monopoly.

The wooden utensils box identifies this game as Monopoly.

The set includes dice made of bone.

The set includes dice made of bone.

The two rate cards appear to be identical with the hand-written version with the Sherk game (first made in 1916). These are seemingly photo reproductions that are like a negative, printed on photo postcard paper of the type in use between 1904 and the 1920s. The effect is rather like a photostat.

The two rate cards appear to be identical with the hand-written version with the Sherk game (first made in 1916). These are seemingly photo reproductions that are like a negative, printed on photo postcard paper of the type in use between 1904 and the 1920s. The effect is rather like a photostat.

Rents are on the backs of the property cards.

Rents are on the backs of the property cards.

There are enough property cards for a complete game, plus some extras. My impression, from studying the cards, is that this owner had two boards. The first board had some customized property names, but many that were directly copied from the original Landlord's Game boards. The second, and more complete set has more customized street names, probably from the Wyomissing PA area (close to Reading), but still had some of the original names. Furthermore, the complete set has the property groups color coded, an important development in the history of the game. These are much like the cards Charles Darrow included with the earliest commercial versions of Monopoly he sold in 1933-34.

There are enough property cards for a complete game, plus some extras. My impression, from studying the cards, is that this owner had two boards. The first board had some customized property names, but many that were directly copied from the original Landlord’s Game boards. The second, and more complete set has more customized street names, probably from the Wyomissing PA area (close to Reading), but still had some of the original names. Furthermore, the complete set has the property groups color coded, an important development in the history of the game. These are much like the cards Charles Darrow included with the earliest commercial versions of Monopoly he sold in 1933-34.

There is a set of 16 Chance cards.

There is a set of 16 Chance cards.

Play money is found in just three denominations, made by using rubber stamps on card stock.

Play money is found in just three denominations, made by using rubber stamps on card stock.

There are 12 more cards, which appear to be a second set of Chance cards. This is even more evidence that these pieces are from two slightly different games.

There are 12 more cards, which appear to be a second set of Chance cards. This is even more evidence that these pieces are from two slightly different games.

The backs of the property cards have rent information and the rates for owning various amounts of the utilities.

The backs of the property cards have rent information and the rates for owning various amounts of the utilities.

The backs of the rate cards. One was printed on photo paper, which was popular at the time.

The backs of the rate cards. One was printed on photo paper, which was popular at the time.

The railroads. Two have the original names from the Landlord's board, and two have been changed.

The railroads. Two have the original names from the Landlord’s board, and two have been changed.

Property cards.

Property cards.

The backs of some of the property cards.

The backs of some of the property cards.

The Heap Monopoly board (circa 1913), now at the Strong Museum of American Play.

The Heap Monopoly board (circa 1913), now at the Strong Museum of American Play.

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 multi-millions 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 made 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 fashioned by the Thuns was probably the first to include the Reading Railroad as well as several other properties and 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 late 1920s, 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 and 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 Massachusetts where Ferdinand and Louis were majoring in economics and 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 mother’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 1916 Monopoly 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.