Original publish date: July 26, 2013 Reissue date: September 17, 2020
The game of Monopoly was patented 80 years ago this week on July 30, 1933. The official Parker Brothers line is that the popular board game was solely created by an unemployed salesman and heating engineer named Charles Darrow. Last week in part I, we learned that Hoosier Dan Layman claimed to have developed the game in the late 1920s while a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania. From Indianapolis the game traveled back to the East Coast through friends of Layman.
Ruth Hoskins brought the monopoly folk game to the Atlantic City after taking a teaching job at the Friends School. Although contrary to the “Monopoly” legend, she and Layman never met, Ruth was introduced to it by one of his friends. In 1929 Ruth Hoskins began playing Monopoly in Indianapolis with her brother James and his friend Robert Frost “Pete” Daggett Jr., who was a close friend of Dan Layman. Her story is appealing if only for the sweet religious reasoning that may have cost her a fortune.
Ruth Hoskins was a core member of Quaker “Friends” meeting group which changed Layman’s capitalistic folk game to a Quaker based game she too called “Monopoly.” In October of 1929, ironically very near the date of the “Black Sunday” stock market crash, Ruth Hoskins began teaching her version of Monopoly to other teachers, students, and Quaker acquaintances. Layman’s manufactured game, Finance, was not yet on the market and certainly not available on the East Coast at that time. Though slight differences appeared in her regional version of the game, Ruth’s game was remarkably similar to the modern incarnation of Monopoly.
Ruth first change to Layman’s game was to purchase properties rather than auctioning them, as the Quakers did not believe in auctions. Apparently the Quakers, who, according to their original tenant, were required to avoid “impudent noisy indecent behaviour in Markets and other publick” simply didn’t like the noise of the auctioneering. Ruth’s most significant claim to authorship of Monopoly as we know it today is that after she relocated to her seaside New Jersey home, she changed Layman’s Indianapolis street names (one of which was “LaSalle Street”) to those of streets found in her adopted Atlantic City hometown. Eugene and Ruth Raiford, friends of Hoskins, showed the game to Charles E. Todd, a hotel manager in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Todd introduced Charles and Esther Darrow to the game. The Darrows were occasional hotel guests; Esther was Todd’s former neighbor.
Charles Todd claims that sometimes in 1931: “The first people we taught it to after learning it from the Raifords was Darrow and his wife Esther … It was entirely new to them. They had never seen anything like it before and showed a great deal of interest in it… Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I wrote them up and checked with Raiford to see if they were right and gave them to Darrow – he wanted two or three copies of the rules, which I gave him and gave Raiford and kept some myself.”
Ruth Hoskins said, while testifying during the same 1974 trial as Dan Layman, in her pretrial deposition. “To the Harveys [Cyril and his wife Dorothy], who introduced it to the Raifords [Eugene and his wife Ruth, Jesse and his wife Dorothea] … Everybody made their own [board] … We asked everybody we knew that could to come play it, because it was such fun.” Since Ruth’s entire circle of friends consisted mainly of scrupulously moral Quakers, whenever the subject of commercializing the game arose, it was rejected.
“We weren’t business people,” Hoskins explained. “We were school teachers. It was a good game the way it was.” She went on to say that since the game was being played in Atlantic City, it no longer made any sense to have properties named after places in Indianapolis or parts of Pennsylvania. The discussion came up that the names were for the most part unknown to us … Why not use Atlantic City names? … We named them out in honor of people who belonged to our group. For instance, well, Boardwalk was first. Everybody knows that, Boardwalk. But the Jones’s were living on Park Place and the Claridge was being built across the street and the Marlborough Blenheim was right there. That was obviously a very expensive part of the town and one that we wanted to honor.
“We were living on Pennsylvania Avenue … The Copes lived on Virginia Avenue at the Morton Hotel … So it developed gradually. “… I know that there were the utilities and I know that the four railroads were there … We had ‘Free Parking’ and we had ‘Go to Jail’ and we had tickets to get out of jail and you got $200 as you passed ‘Go’.” The lawyers made a point to meticulously document Ruth’s story, street-by-street, because Parker Brothers’ last defense is that Charles Darrow put the Atlantic City streets on the board and therefore his game is different from other versions of Monopoly. Hoskins also suggested Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental Avenues. “All these I made up and then we discussed it with the group.” Other members of the group added New York Ave., Community Chest and Marven Gardens “because although it wasn’t a street, there was somebody living there”.
In spite of this evidence, Parker Brothers chose to promote the Charles Darrow version of the game, even though they knew that it was not Mr. Darrow’s creation. Parker Brothers officially sanctioned story claimed that “Charles Darrow as an unemployed salesman and inventor living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, who was struggling with odd jobs to support his family in the years following the great stock market crash of 1929. Charles Darrow remembering his summers spent in Atlantic City, New Jersey, spent his spare time drawing the streets of Atlantic City on his kitchen tablecloth, and using pieces of material and bits of paints, wood etc. contributed by local merchants for game pieces. A game was already forming in his mind as he built little hotels, houses and other tokens to go along with his painted streets.”
One glaring mistake pointed to as evidence of the theft of intellectual property can be seen in Darrow’s version to this day. Ruth’s original Marven Gardens designation, named for a residential area near Atlantic City, was misspelled by Darrow as Marvin Gardens. This, combined with the other similarities mentioned above, make it highly unlikely that Darrow’s claim to authorship of Monopoly is authentic. He seems to have simply been in the right place at the right time.
Although it is clear Charles Darrow was not the sole inventor of Monopoly, the game he patented was quickly becoming a best seller for Parker Brothers. Within one month of signing an agreement with Darrow in 1935, Parker Brothers started producing over 20,000 copies of the game per week, a game that Charles Darrow claimed was his “brainchild.” Parker Brothers most likely discovered the existence of other Monopoly games after buying the patent from Darrow, but by that time, it was evident that the game was going to be a huge success. According to the Parker Brothers, their best move was “to secure patents and copyrights.” Parker Brothers simply did what Rockefeller, Carnegie, Hearst and Edison did before them, they bought out, developed and published the acknowledged forerunners if Monopoly: The Landlord’s Game, Finance, Fortune, as well as Finance and Fortune.
Much of the true history of “Monopoly” remains a mystery, but what is known for certain is that Charles Darrow sold his ‘rights’ to Parker Brothers at age 46. And that’s a fact. The royalties from Monopoly made Charles Darrow a millionaire, the first game inventor to make that much money. In 1970, a few years after Darrow’s death, Atlantic City erected a commemorative plaque in his honor. It stands on the Boardwalk, near the corner of Park Place.
The city of Indianapolis is a mere footnote in the history of the board game Monopoly. You won’t find the names of Hoosier Dan Layman or Hoosier transplant Ruth Hoskins written in any history of the Parker Brothers company. But the next time you’re cursing the skies for the rotten luck of landing on Boardwalk with four houses AGAIN, you can now shake your fist in the air and personally thank the Hoosier men and women who put you there.