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Elizabeth Magie: the Real Inventor of Monopoly

The official origin story of the board game Monopoly was that Charles Darrow invented it in the 1930s. He indeed became very wealthy from the idea, but it wasn’t his. The game was actually conceived by Elizabeth Magie, who filed a patent for her game in 1903. The Landlord’s Game was designed to show the evils of unrestrained capitalism.

She created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.

And yet it was the monopolist version of the game that caught on, with Darrow claiming a version of it as his own and selling it to Parker Brothers. While Darrow made millions and struck an agreement that ensured he would receive royalties, Magie’s income for her creation was reported to be a mere $500.

Long-time Neatorama readers knew this, as we posted about it in 2011. Cecil Adams goes into detail about why Magie’s version was not as popular as Monopoly. Sure, you might learn about contrasting economic systems, but it was more fun to crush your opponents and see them driven before you. Still, Elizabeth Magie’s story is fascinating. She was a single woman who supported herself and owned her own property even before women had the right to vote. She made national headlines for a stunt she pulled to mock the institution of marriage. And it was only in 1973 that her role in the creation of Monopoly was uncovered. Read about Magie and her game at the New York Times.

(Image credit: The Strong Museum, Rochester, New York)      

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