Monopoly is one of the most popular board games in the world, enjoyed by millions of people of all ages. It is a game of strategy, luck, and ruthless capitalism, where players buy and sell properties to bankrupt their opponents. Most people don’t know is that the original inventor of Monopoly was a woman named Elizabeth Magie. And her story is one of erasure and injustice.
Elizabeth Magie was born in 1866 in Illinois, USA. She was a writer, inventor, and feminist, who believed in social and economic justice. In the early 1900s, she created a game called The Landlord’s Game, which was a prototype for Monopoly. The Landlord’s Game was a way for Magie to express her political views and critique the monopolistic practices of big corporations and landlords.
Magie’s original rules of Landlord’s Game
The Landlord’s Game was based on the idea of land value taxation, where players paid rent to a public treasury instead of a private landlord. The game had two sets of rules.
The first set of rules was called the “Prosperity” rules, where players cooperated to build a better society. In this version, players could only win by collectively creating wealth and increasing the value of properties. It was designed to demonstrate the advantages of a single tax system and how it could lead to greater prosperity for all.
The second set of rules was called the “Monopoly” rules, where players competed to accumulate wealth and bankrupt their opponents. This version was designed to demonstrate the consequences of monopolies and the harm they can do to society. In this version, players could win by bankrupting their opponents and taking control of all the properties on the board.
The latter set of rules was the one that became the Monopoly we all know.
Elizabeth Magie invented the game as a way to promote the ideas of Henry George. He was an American economist and social theorist who advocated for a single tax on land value as a way to alleviate poverty and promote social equality.
As a follower of George’s ideas, Magie believed that the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few wealthy individuals was a major cause of social and economic inequality. She created The Landlord’s Game as a way to illustrate these ideas and to encourage people to think about alternative economic systems.
Monopoly was credited to Darrow instead of Magie
Even though Magie patented The Landlord’s Game, her contribution to Monopoly was largely erased from history. Instead, the game was marketed as the creation of a man named Charles Darrow. He was an American salesman who claimed to have invented Monopoly during the Great Depression.
Darrow sold the game to Parker Brothers, who began manufacturing it in 1935. Darrow received a royalty on each game sold, and became wealthy as a result. The company marketed the game as Darrow’s invention, and even went as far as creating a fictional backstory for him, where he supposedly came up with the game during a period of unemployment.
Darrow’s version of the game featured familiar elements such as the use of dice, tokens, and properties with different values. He also added elements such as Chance and Community Chest cards, which added an element of luck and strategy to the game.
Parker Brothers also acquired the rights to the various patents and trademarks that Darrow had filed for the game. This included the trademark for the name “Monopoly” and the design of the game board.
The rediscovery of Magie’s contribution
While Elizabeth Magie had patented her game in 1904 and renewed it in 1924, her patent had expired by the time Parker Brothers became interested in the game in the 1930s, and the game was in the public domain.
It’s worth noting that Parker Brothers was aware of the similarities between Monopoly and The Landlord’s Game. They even contacted Magie in 1936 to discuss the possibility of buying the rights to her game as well. However, the company ultimately decided not to pursue this, and instead focused on promoting Monopoly as its own distinct game. As a result, Magie did not receive any compensation for her role in creating the game that would become Monopoly.
It wasn’t until decades later that Magie’s role in the creation of Monopoly was rediscovered. In the 1970s, a historian named Ralph Anspach was sued by Parker Brothers for creating a game called Anti-Monopoly, which challenged the legality of Monopoly’s patents. During the trial, Anspach uncovered evidence of Magie’s contribution to Monopoly and her original game, The Landlord’s Game.
Despite this, Magie’s name is still not widely known outside of academic circles. Her legacy as a feminist, inventor, and social activist has been overshadowed by the popular myth of Monopoly’s creation. Magie died in 1948, largely forgotten and unappreciated for her contribution to one of the most iconic board games in history.
In conclusion, Elizabeth Magie was the original inventor of Monopoly, a game that has brought joy, frustration, and entertainment to millions of people. However, her contribution to the game was erased from history. She never received the recognition or financial compensation that she deserved. Her story is a testament to the erasure of women’s achievements throughout history.
For more inspirational stories for International Women’s Day, check out our Gender Issue.