That inspirational story, which you'll find listed under the "game facts" in any current edition of Monopoly, is a half-truth at best.
Here's the real deal. Monopoly, as we know it today, first emerged in the late eighteenth century as The Landlord's Game. Inspired by the single tax theory of Henry George, Quakeress Lizzie J. Magie Phillips developed The Landlord's Game as a friendly means for educating the hoi polloi on the pitfalls of property speculation. By playing the game, Maggie envisioned the participants gaining a "firsthand" appreciation of the landlord's unfair advantage.
Among Quaker and collegiate circles throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania, The Landlord's Game enjoyed limited popularity. As each game was handmade, they tended to vary among these scattered playing circles.
It was playing one of these regional variations that first inspired Charles Darrow to "invent" Monopoly. Put an early version of Monopoly next to The Landlord's Game and the similarities become obvious. In fact, Monopoly appears to be no more than a less cluttered version of The Landlord's Game.
Not unfamiliar with the game publishing world, having already come out with Mock Trial, Maggie approached Parker Brothers with The Landlord's Game. Parker Brothers felt the game was too complicated, in other words, no fun. But it was not merely eliminating a few blocks on the board that made Darrow's game more fun. In fact, Parker Brothers first rejected Monopoly for the same reasons they turned The Landlord's Game away.
Rejection in no way thwarted Darrow's marketing plans, however. If Parker Brothers wasn't going to carry his game to America's stores, Darrow would do it himself. On his own dime, Darrow had 5,000 sets made, which he then took from store to store throughout New England. As sales escalated, Parker Brothers quickly reversed their decision, publishing their first edition of Monopoly in 1935. Disappearing from store shelves across America as quickly as they arrived, Monopoly proved to be an immediate success. Darrow, as you can imagine, lived the rest of his life off the royalties he received as "inventor" of the game.
And Phillips? Before a Parker Brothers edition of Monopoly ever touched a store shelf, the game publishing giant covered their tracks by purchasing the rights to The Landlord's Game, as well as an earlier proprietary game, Finance. Furthermore, they also purchased every available set of these two games they could find. And just to be sure, they purchased the copyright from Phillips, for a scandalous sum of $500.
One could easily say it took a monopoly to make Monopoly.
Still, it took more than cornering the market for Monopoly to become the household name it is today. Here are a few more reasons to explain the success of Monopoly.
One. A universalized board. Unlike Phillips, when Darrow produced Monopoly, every set was the same. In place of the regional localities, Darrow based the place of reference on Atlantic City, NJ, a sort of fantasy land in the minds of many Americans during the 1930s, a period otherwise remembered as the Great Depression. Doing so garnered a sense of continuity, even national identity, among players.
Two. Darrow employed the aggressive, competitive spirit needed to win Monopoly to produce Monopoly. As Phillips' purpose behind The Landlord's Game was to uncover the corrupt ethics of property speculation and land management, her moral agenda overrode her profit interests. Darrow, on the other hand, sought fame and fortune. Better than anyone else, Darrow understood the marketability of Phillips' innovative game, and realized all he had to do was get it on the shelf.
Three. As the force behind the game changed, so did the nature of the game. Now the players aimed to emulate the manipulative business tactics of the landlord in order to win. The villain of Phillips' The Landlord's Game became the hero of Darrow's Monopoly. Ironically, this aspect of human nature that Phillips hoped to eliminate proved to be the key for successfully marketing her game.
Four. The visual display of information in the graphic design and layout of Monopoly accounts for its aesthetic and intrigue. Compared to the density and complexity of The Landlord's Game, Monopoly's use of empty space proves more aesthetically inviting and visually manageable.
Five. No money, no fun. Where Phillips stigmatized a free market economy, Darrow indulged it. During the Great Depression, money and good times were hard to come by. Playing Monopoly provided an affordable means of leisure to escape everyday woes.
Identity. Means. Nature. Layout. Leisure. These elements that made
Monopoly can likewise be attributed to the value of game play
in exporting and defining a culture. The success of Monopoly
was due not only to its ingenious use of the game's underlying principles
in marketing it, but also to the cultural mechanisms enacted by it (though