History of Monopoly through 50 unique editions
The Monopoly game has long been attributed to an unemployed man named Charles Darrow, who was said to have thought up the game in the early 1930s, sold it to the Parker Brothers in 1935, and made millions from his enormously successful creation.
But wait—there’s more to this story. Mary Pilon, a former Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporter, discovered that it was a woman who was behind one of America’s most enduring pastimes. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie got a patent for what was called The Landlord’s Game in 1904, and it sounds very much like Monopoly.
Players move around a square board, buying property as they go, sometimes landing on a corner that reads “Go to Jail,” and earning $100 for each trip around, according to Pilon’s book, “The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game.”
What might come as a surprise to many of today’s players is the story behind that first game. Magie was a fan of Henry George, a 19th-century progressive economist, who argued that a single land tax would prevent the very wealthy from creating monopolies. Magie’s board game was meant to be educational and a protest against men such as John D. Rockefeller—not a glorification of their business methods—and to demonstrate the soundness of George’s ideas.
By the early 1930s, The Landlord’s Game had evolved and various versions became popular on the East Coast. During the Great Depression, Darrow learned a version of Magie’s game from a friend who was a member of the Quaker community in Atlantic City, New Jersey, according to Pilon.
It was common for players to make their own copies of the game boards on oilcloth and name the properties after areas familiar to them. Darrow’s friend had named the game’s properties after Atlantic City streets. In fact, when copying the game for Darrow, he misspelled the name of Marven Gardens, a housing development outside Atlantic City, as “Marvin Gardens”—a spelling error that stuck when Darrow sold a patent he had for his version of the game to Parker Brothers in 1935.
Throughout the years, the game’s political origins seem to have been mostly forgotten in favor of the monopolist drive that Magie opposed. Today there are a plethora of versions, in different languages and with different themes. Many are tied to television shows or movies, and to characters from books or games. Stacker compiled a list of 50 Monopoly editions by researching company websites, fans’ collections, and historical articles.
Here’s a look at the iconic American board game, its long-lived popularity, and its spin-offs over the years.
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1904: The Landlord’s Game
According to Mary Pilon, the author of “The Monopolists,” Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie of Virginia received a patent for what she called The Landlord’s Game, a board game that sounds very much like today’s Monopoly. Magie, a follower of the progressive 19th-century economist Henry George, created the game to show the difference between rich landowners and poor tenants as players move forward through the roll of dice, buying property as they advance around a square board, paying taxes and utilities, and sometimes landing on a corner that reads, “Go to Jail.”
The story long promoted about the origins of Monopoly was that a man named Charles Darrow of Pennsylvania created it and sold it to the Parker Brothers board game manufacturer in 1935. After playing a version of The Landlord’s Game at a Quaker friend’s home, Darrow, who was unemployed during the Great Depression, decided to remake the game board, keeping the names of the Atlantic City, New Jersey, streets, as a model for his Monopoly. He made millions of dollars from his “invention.”
1939: The Landlord’s Game
This version of The Landlord’s Game features a photo of Elizabeth Magie on the box. She created two sets of rules for the game. Under one set, everyone benefited when wealth was created. The other encouraged the creation of monopolies and ruthless behavior toward opponents.
1941: World War II Special Edition
During World War II, the British secret service M19 managed to get maps and tools to prisoners being held by the Germans by hiding them in Monopoly sets. The U.K. manufacturer, John Waddington, Ltd., secreted a compass, small metal files, and a silk map into compartments in the Monopoly board. The Germans allowed the Monopoly sets to be given to the prisoners as a humanitarian gesture.
1975: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
This anniversary edition, published by Parker Brothers, comes in a wood case with wooden buildings and is the standard Atlantic City version of the game that had its beginnings among the members of an Atlantic City Quaker community. As its popularity grew at the beginning of the 1900s, they added the names of their streets to the game board. It was Charles Todd, a Quaker, who taught his friend Charles Darrow to play the game in the early 1930s. After fine-tuning a version of the game as his own, Darrow sold his patent for it to Parker Brothers in 1935.
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1985: Deluxe 50th Anniversary Edition
This 50th edition of Monopoly from Parker Brothers features an anniversary token—the special Monopoly train—one of 10 tokens produced in a gold finish for the occasion. The houses and hotels are in wood as in the original version. A new organizing tray for deeds and cash was also included.
1995: 60th Anniversary Edition
The 60th anniversary edition was issued for the diamond celebration of the game and it includes tokens with an antique bronze finish, a 1930s version of Rich Uncle Pennybags, and a commemorative dice cup that resembles his top hat. Rich Uncle Pennybags or Mr. Monopoly, the mascot of the game, was reportedly based on J.P. Morgan. He was added to the Monopoly board in 1936, according to “The Monopoly Companion: The Players’ Guide” by Philip Orbanes.
1996: Centennial Olympic Games Edition
This version of Monopoly commemorates the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Its board features a seal of the Olympic torch, and properties that include Atlanta 1996 and Athens 1896. Numbered, commemorative editions of Monopoly have celebrated everything from NASCAR to “I Love Lucy” throughout the years, and a version of the game has appeared in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Sopranos” and “Gossip Girl.”
1997: Batman and Robin Collector’s Edition
Holy Monopoly! Here’s the Batman and Robin version, published to coincide with the 1997 movie about The Caped Crusader. There’s no mistaking the red and black Batman symbol at the center of the board, and Batman and Robin themed tokens. Superheroes are a favorite choice for the themed Monopoly games.
1997: NASCAR Official Collector’s Edition
Calling all race car fans, this version of Monopoly is for you. It taps into the country’s love of NASCAR, with a game board that features its teams, a black flag, Speedway, and Caterpillar. The tokens continue the racing theme with such tokens as a steering wheel, a race car, a mechanic, and a trophy.
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