kottke.org posts about Charless Darrow

The antimonopolist origins of Monopoly differ from Hasbro's official storyNov 16 2012

According to Hasbro, Monopoly was invented by Charles Darrow in 1933 and sold to Parker Brothers soon after. But that's not quite the whole story.

The game's true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow's patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to "own" land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an "erroneous and destructive principle" and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as "the general landlord."

Magie called her invention The Landlord's Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly.

But it was Monopoly with a significant twist:

The game's most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City's Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly's "Go!" was a box marked "Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages." The Landlord Game's chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property's title holder but into a common pot-the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, "Prosperity is achieved."

With a lengthy section on the philosophy underpinning the original version of the game, this is more interesting than an article about a board game has the right to be.

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