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The (Truly) Shocking History of Monopoly

go to jail by wootam!.jpg
wootam! via Flickr Creative Commons
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I hate Monopoly. Always have. The reason is simple: it's impossible to play the game and feel good, even if you win. Monopoly, simply put, is all about crushing  your fellow players through bankruptcy, even if they're your own kids. Turns out, there might be a reason for my hatred of Monopoly.

The most popular game in the world, according to this amazing article in Harpers, is, simply put, theft. And it has an incredible, almost unbelievable history:

  • The official history of Monopoly is that it was invented in 1933 by a Philadelphia man named Charles Darrow. But three decades earlier, the prototype for Monopoly was actually invented as an anti-land ownership teaching tool by a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie. The original game had Chance cards with quotes from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living," and gave players the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted to cooperate for everyone's benefit. It was based on the thinking of the economist Henry George.
  • For nearly thirty years, Magie's game was played by all sorts of people because it was unbranded and free, like checkers. It even became a staple at business schools like Wharton, where one professor used it as a tool to demonstrate "the anti-social nature of monopolies."
    landlords game 2.jpg
    Credit via underconsideration.com
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    An early version of Monopoly called The Landlord's Game.
  • Magie's game was passed along by people teaching it to one another, and eventually a version of it ended up being taught to its alleged inventor Charles Darrow. In 1932, he copied the layout of the board, the rules, the cards, even the property names, and then staked claim as its inventor. Parker Brothers helped him secure the patent, bought the brand, and went on to make millions on the game.
  • In 1971, game inventor and retired economics professor Ralph Anspach created Anti-Monopoly, which sold more than 200,000 thousand copies upon release. The game was inspired by his own defeat at Monopoly at the hands of his eight year-old son, and started where Monopoly ends, with a board full of Monopolies that players work to break up. Parker Brother's was not impressed, and threatened legal action. So Anspach launched his own lawsuit, accusing Parker Brother's of capitalizing on a trademark that was invalid.
    antimonopoly via LEGANERD_032212.jpg
    Credit via leganerd.com
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    Tired of your 8 year-old crushing your dreams? Enter Anti-Monopoly!
  • The case went to trial in 1976, but despite the judge being presented the full history of Monopoly, including testimony from the former president of Parker Brothers who admitted Darrow did not invent it, the court ultimately dismissed Anspach's complaint, and ordered all unsold copies of the game destroyed.

One more problem with Monopoly? It's eternal. Think about it, when's the last time you heard someone say, "Hey, how about a quick round of Monopoly?" Never, that's when.

Listen to our interview with Christopher Ketchum, who wrote "Monopoly is Theft" for Harpers:

Rebecca oversees the team that makes NHPR podcasts, including Outside/In, Civics 101, and Document. She has previously served as NHPR's Director of Audience & Engagement, Digital Director, and Senior Producer for Word of Mouth.

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