Do you know about the secret history of Monopoly and it’s (real) inventor, Lizzie Magie?
In the early 1900s, Lizzie Magie, who was an early feminist and established activist, invented a surprisingly popular game that she called The Landlord’s Game. The game turned into an underground sensation: anyone from college students to parents would make their own copies of the game, playing it all across the Northeast and the Midwest.
Magie wrote that her the goal of her game was clear: to teach players the “practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.”
And you know that feeling of wanting to knock the board over when the roll of the dice screws you and someone else is getting rich while you’ve got nothing? That’s on purpose. In 1906, Magie wrote of her game:
“In a short time — I hope a very short time — men and women will discover that they are poor because Carnegie and Rockefeller, maybe, have more than they know what to do with.”
She also stated that she believed her game could change the minds of a generation of people, writing:
“Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.”
But as we know, that’s not exactly how things went down, and The Landlord’s Game is known as Monopoly. So how did this happen? Well, after spending decades as an underground hit, the game was eventually stolen from Magie by a man named Charles Darrow. Darrow learned the game from a friend and became infatuated. He began making his own copies by tweaking the art and marketing it as his own, and he called it as the Monopoly (which was one of many names Magie had previously used and discarded for the game).
After Parker Brothers bought the rights from Darrow in 1935, they learned that he may not have been the true inventor of the game—but decided to go on selling it, anyway. Darrow’s stolen version of The Landlord’s Game became the most successful board game of all time, with Darrow going on to become the first ever millionaire game-designer.
Though the principles Magie sought to instill in the game were eventually stripped, some of her values still live on in Monopoly in surprising ways. For instance, did you ever wonder why you collect $200 when you pass “Go”? Magie thought players had earned it because they had “performed so much labor upon Mother Earth.” This wasn’t sarcasm; in one of Magie’s many versions of The Landlord’s Game, players banded together for economic equality. It’s fitting and fascinating that the game most associated with greed was created to protest it. It serves as the greatest lesson Magie’s game sought to teach: money consumes everything.
Want to get back at Charles Darrow and support Magie’s original goal? We invented the game Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives. Check it out here!