Original publish date: July 19, 2013 Reissue Date September 10, 2020
Last Winter, hundreds of thousands of voters in 180 countries elected a new “Monopoly” token that was added to the game earlier this year. The cat token won the race and replaced the iron, an original piece from 1933. By some estimates, more than 1 billion people have played “Monopoly” since its creation, with more than 275 million copies sold in 111 countries and 43 languages. But while the game’s success is indisputable, its origins are not. What we know is that the game of Monopoly was patented 80 years ago this month on July 30, 1933 by an unemployed salesman and heating engineer named Charles Darrow.
Darrow, reeling from the loss of his career during the Great Depression, enlisted his wife and son to design and hand-produce the very first games eight decades ago. Darrow drew the designs with a drafting pen on round pieces of oilcloth, and then his son and his wife helped fill in the spaces with colors and make the title deed cards and the Chance cards and Community Chest cards. Darrow called his game “Monopoly” and hand-painted one set per day, which he sold for $4.00 each. While Darrow received a copyright on his game in 1933, his original patent model and succeeding specimens have mysteriously disappeared from the files of the United States Copyright Office, though proof of its registration remains.
In 1935, Darrow licensed the game to Parker Brothers and quickly became the first millionaire game designer. When Darrow died in 1967, his New York Times obituary headline read “Charles B. Darrow Dies at 78; Inventor of Game of Monopoly.” That’s the official story line anyway, the real story is quite a bit more complicated.
The Landlord’s Game Board from 1904.
Some say that Lizzie J. Magie’s “The Landlord’s Game”, patented in 1904, was the first real monopoly game. Others claim it was a Reading, Pennsylvania college student, Dan Layman, and his pal, Louis Thun, created a game called “Finance” (that his friends called “Monopoly”) in the late 1920s. Or was it Ruth Hoskins? She learned how to play the game from a friend of Layman’s in Indianapolis. Yes, the game of Monopoly was created here in Indianapolis!
Originally titled “The Fascinating Game of Finance or Finance and Fortune” and later shortened to “Finance” for the sake of brevity, the board game was based on Ms. Magie’s “The Landlord’s Game”. The game featured the now familiar movement of pieces around the handmade board, the use of cards, properties that can be purchased, and houses that can be erected on them. The published board featured four railroads (one per side), Chance and Community Chest cards and spaces, and properties grouped by symbol, rather than color. Sound Familiar?
Hoosier Dan Layman developed his game while a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania in the late 1920s. In January 1975 during one of the many patent trials challenging the rights to the popular & profitable game, Dan Layman facetiously opined in his deposition that: “They forgot to mention that when Darrow died, he was working on the invention of the wheel.” The deposition insisted that Layman and his college fraternity brothers were playing Monopoly six years before Darrow ever saw it and he had copyrighted and published the first set of rules for the game in its modern form.
In an episode that must’ve foreshadowed the Zuckerberg / Winklevoss facebook controversy of this century, Layman created his version of Monopoly after being introduced to it by two of his Williams College Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity brothers, Frederick and Louis Thun. After leaving college, Layman returned to his hometown of Indianapolis and in his spare time he taught Monopoly to a variety of friends who made their own boards. Eventually Layman got the idea of marketing the game. So, he drew up formal rules (including: “Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00 dollars, Ownership of a series entitles one to collect double rent on all the properties of that series, paying $50 to the bank, one may leave the jail the first time his turn comes around again…), and got a company called Electronic Laboratories, Inc., to make the board, cards, money and pieces (hotels, houses, markers).
In 1932, the board game “Finance” was first sold by the L. S. Ayres & Co department store chain. Initially, the game was sold in small black boxes (some of which came with poker chips for money) with four different versions of the rules and properties were auctioned rather than sold. Otherwise, it is almost identical to Monopoly including Chance and Community Chest cards. With L. S. Ayres & Co. and Electronics Laboratories producing and L.S. Ayres selling his version, Lyman published the game for a year before selling it to Knapp Electric for $200. Although Layman first intended to call his new creation “Monopoly”, the name was changed for trademark reasons. Some clarity to the Monopoly rights controversy can be found in the General Mills Fun Group (buyers of Parker Brothers and Monopoly) lawsuit against Ralph Anspach and his Anti-Monopoly® game in 1974. Dan Layman testified: “I understood from various attorney friends of mine that because Monopoly had been used as the name of this exact game, both in Indianapolis and in Reading and in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that it was, therefore, in public domain and that I couldn’t protect it in any way. So, I changed the name in order to have some protection.”
According to a Time Magazine article dated February 17th, 1936: “I wrote the entire rulebook for the game of Finance in 1931 (copyrighted 1932) and simplified the old game of Monopoly for manufacturing purposes…” said Dan Layman, “Almost exactly this same game as played at Williams was put on the market in Indianapolis early in 1932 through L. S. Ayres & Co.” This was the only article published which contradicted what would become Parker Brothers’ assertion that it had published the original Monopoly, and that Layman’s version was a spin-off. Layman had forced the retraction by Time in 1936, when an article two weeks earlier had published an article titled “Monopoly and Politics.”
What was unknown to Time was that Layman had sold the rights to the game to a small games manufacturer, David W. Knapp, the originator of the popular 1930s game “Krazy-Ikes.” Knapp was eventually bought out by Parker Brothers for $10,000- a significant sum at the time. But it was a far cry from the Millions in Royalties that were paid to Charles Darrow. Parker Brothers eventually published the game Finance, after simplifying the rules for easier play and marketing it as a separate entity. So much for Dan Layman’s claims.
Although the game company virtually ignored Hoosier Dan Layman’s virtual paternity claim as the “Father” of Monopoly, in the spring of 1935, Parker Brothers paid Layman’s old college fraternity brother Luis Thun a visit and offered to buy any remaining boards of their Monopoly game for $50 each. Thun said that he told the Parker Brothers representative “…it wasn’t at all clear to me how Mr. Darrow could be the inventor of a game… we’d played since 1925.” But $50 each for an obsolete board game at the height of the Great Depression proved too rich an offer to refuse and Thun caved, thus ending all claims to authorship of Parker Brothers’ best selling board game.
But Hoosier ties to the game of “Monopoly” does not end there. There is another historical footnote that binds Monopoly to our fair city.