This week in history: Monopoly invented

Family playing Monopoly in the 1930s © Getty images
Families have gathered around the Monopoly board since 1935

Monopoly is one of the world’s best-selling board games. It’s available in 43 different languages in 111 countries, and more than 275 million copies have been sold worldwide (according to manufacturer Hasbro) since 1935. That’s when Charles Darrow, a salesman from Philadelphia, sold the rights to the game to Parker Brothers in return for royalties.

Parker Brothers had at first rejected the game for being too long, only changing their mind after Darrow successfully sold it himself to local stores.

Yet, despite Darrow’s claim to have invented it, most historians now agree that Monopoly borrows heavily from The Landlord’s Game, invented by Elizabeth Magie Phillips in 1902.

The game was developed to support the theories of the economist Henry George, who advocated a land value tax to reduce inequality. Darrow also knew of another “Monopoly”, very similar to today’s version, which had been played by Quakers in Atlantic City since the 1920s.

Ironically, given the game’s origins, Parker Brothers (bought by Hasbro in 1991) acted aggressively over the years to stop similar games emerging, even trademarking the suffix ‘opoly’.

It launched several lawsuits against rivals, most controversially in 1973 against Anti-Monopoly, a game invented by Professor Ralph Anspach of Berkley University as a direct response to the original, to show the damage done to free markets by monopolies.

After a long battle, the US Supreme Court in 1983 effectively voided Monopoly’s trademark on the grounds that the phrase had become generic. But protests from manufacturers fearing the precedent this set led to laws reversing the ruling.

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