The Monopolists | Mary Pilon

Summary of: The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game
By: Mary Pilon


Embark on a fascinating journey into the hidden history and unsolved mysteries surrounding the world’s favorite board game, Monopoly. In Mary Pilon’s riveting book ‘The Monopolists,’ you’ll discover the untold story behind Charles Darrow’s alleged rags-to-riches invention, and the role of Elizabeth Magie’s Landlord’s Game in creating the Monopoly we know today. Delve into the political ideas of economist Henry George that inspired Magie’s game and learn about the long-lasting impact of the fight between economics professor Ralph Anspach, creator of Anti-Monopoly, and corporate giant Parker Brothers over the trademarked game. Prepare to explore the remarkable evolution of Monopoly and unravel the enduring power of corporate monopolies in the 21st century.

Monopoly’s True Origin Story

The origin story of the beloved board game Monopoly is shrouded in myth. The widely accepted tale is that Charles Darrow, the game’s inventor, created the game during the Great Depression and went from rags to riches after Parker Brothers bought the game from him. However, this story is a fabrication, and Darrow was never the game’s inventor. Instead, he learned how to play the game from friends and then redesigned it. The true origin story of Monopoly lies in the concept of game stealing. Parker Brothers was struggling as a company and needed to protect their games’ concepts, including Monopoly. To ensure complete control of the game, they pushed the notion that Darrow was the inventor, creating a rags-to-riches narrative that helped the game’s popularity grow. By diving into the history of Monopoly, we can learn about the game’s true origins and why Parker Brothers lied about its creation.

The Origins of Monopoly

Monopoly wouldn’t exist without Elizabeth Magie’s Landlord’s Game, which contained similarities and unique characteristics that inspired the modern classic. The game was created in 1904 and was based on the political beliefs of Henry George, advocating for fees on land use instead of income tax. The game’s players could either compete for property monopolies or profit together by paying the same fee. Although the Landlord’s Game was not a major success commercially, Magie wanted to spread George’s ideas. Despite criticism, she continued to produce the game and updated her patent in 1923. Interestingly, the game took on a life of its own and became popular on the east coast of the United States without Magie’s knowledge.

The Evolution of Monopoly

The game of Monopoly has seen a long history of evolution driven by player communities and collaboration. The modified version of the original game was popularized by Upton Sinclair, and players added their streets and neighborhoods to the board to mirror reality. The game was intended to warn against monopolies and was used in universities as a teaching aid. The final adjustments to the game were made by Daniel Layman, who added chance cards and miniature houses based on Ukrainian models, and called it Finance. Despite Monopoly’s popularity, he was unable to make money from his new version, and eventually sold the rights for just $200.

The Shrouded Story of Monopoly’s Copyright

In 1933, Charles Darrow received a copyright for Monopoly, but it’s unclear what the patent covered as the original documents are lost. Parker Brothers had to secure a further copyright to acquire the rights for the entire game and patented the official rules in just one month in 1935, which still remains a mystery. The company also suspiciously bought the rights of similar games and paid another developer to keep his game out of the market. Parker Brothers tried purchasing earlier versions of the game and bought Elizabeth Magie’s patent for the Landlord’s Game to cover up the truth. Even though some players claimed that Parker Brothers and Darrow had stolen Monopoly, their claims were ignored, and the real story only came to light years later.

The Battle Between Monopoly and Anti-Monopoly

Monopoly, one of the most popular board games of all time, was criticized in the 1970s by an economics professor, Ralph Anspach, for promoting values of greed and selfishness. Anspach created an alternative version of the game called Anti-Monopoly, which encouraged players to share resources and break up monopolies. Anspach decided to produce the game himself, and it became an instant hit. However, Parker Brothers, the original manufacturer of Monopoly, sent Anspach a cease and desist letter. Anspach refused to back down and a court date was set. In preparation for the court date, Anspach uncovered the unsavory details of Monopoly’s checkered past. Ultimately, Anti-Monopoly was allowed to be sold, and it continued to gain popularity. The battle between Monopoly and Anti-Monopoly highlighted the public’s increasing distrust of power, especially after the Watergate scandal.

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