On April 4 2022, a Facebook user shared an image and a post about The Landlord’s Game, on which popular board game Monopoly was purportedly based.
Alongside two images of The Landlord’s Game, the author explained similarities and differences between it and Monopoly:
Monopoly wasn’t invented by the Parker Brothers, nor the man they gave it credit for. In 1904, Monopoly was originally called The Landlord’s Game, and was invented by a radical woman. Elizabeth Magie’s original game had not one, but two sets of rules to choose from.
One was called “Prosperity”, where every player won money anytime another gained a property. And the game was won by everyone playing only when the person with the least doubled their resources. A game of collaboration and social good.
The second set of rules was called “Monopoly”, where players succeeded by taking properties and rent from those with less luck rolling the dice. The winner was the person who used their power to eliminate everyone else.
Magie’s mission was to teach us how different we feel when playing Prosperity vs Monopoly, hoping that it would one day change national policies.
When the Parker Bros adopted the game, they erased Magie, they erased the “Prosperity” rules and celebrated “Monopoly”. This is why very few games of Monopoly end in better friendships! Some even end friendships! What they couldn’t erase was Magie’s lesson.
In 2022, Monopoly remained a popular board game and brand. Brittanica.com described the game as “the best-selling privately patented board game in history,” adding:
Monopoly, real-estate board game for two to eight players, in which the player’s goal is to remain financially solvent while forcing opponents into bankruptcy by buying and developing pieces of property.
Each side of the square board is divided into 10 small rectangles representing specific properties, railroads, utilities, a jail, and various other places and events. At the start of the game, each player is given a fixed amount of play money; the players then move around the board according to the throw of a pair of dice. Any player who lands on an unowned property may buy it, but, if he or she lands on a property owned by another player, rent must be paid to that player. Certain nonproperty squares require the player landing on them to draw a card that may be favourable or unfavourable. If a player acquires a monopoly—that is, all of a particular group of properties—that player may purchase improvements for those properties; improvements add substantially to a property’s rental fee. A player continues to travel around the board until he or she is bankrupt. Bankruptcy results in elimination from the game. The last player remaining on the board is the winner.
Brittanica.com subsequently stated that Monopoly “gained popularity in the United States during the Great Depression when Charles B. Darrow, an unemployed heating engineer, sold the concept to Parker Brothers in 1935.” However, a January 2015 Smithsonian Magazine article (“Monopoly Was Designed to Teach the 99% About Income Inequality”) described its origins in a slightly different fashion:
In the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, a down-on-his-luck family man named Charles Darrow invented a game to entertain his friends and loved ones, using an oilcloth as a playing surface. He called the game Monopoly, and when he sold it to Parker Brothers he became fantastically rich—an inspiring Horatio Alger tale of homegrown innovation if ever there was one.
Or is it? I spent five years researching the game’s history for my new book, The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, and found that Monopoly’s story began decades earlier, with an all-but-forgotten woman named Lizzie Magie, an artist, writer, feminist and inventor.
In that piece author Mary Pilon described Lizzie Magie’s development of The Landlord’s Game. It continued:
The Landlord’s Game was sold for a while by a New York-based publisher, but it spread freely in passed-along homemade versions … It was a Quaker iteration that Darrow copied and sold to Parker Brothers in 1935, along with his tall tale of inspired creation, a new design by his friend F.O. Alexander, a political cartoonist, and what is surely one of U.S. history’s most-repeated spelling errors: “Marvin Gardens,” which a friend of Darrow’s had mistranscribed from “Marven Gardens,” a neighborhood in the Atlantic City area.
On February 15 2022, the New York Times published “Monopoly’s Inventor: The Progressive Who Didn’t Pass ‘Go’,” also written by Pilon. In it, she described Magie’s frustration at Darrow’s appropriation and distortion of the game she invented:
Amid the press surrounding Darrow and the nationwide Monopoly craze, Magie lashed out. In 1936 interviews with The Washington Post and The Evening Star she expressed anger at Darrow’s appropriation of her idea. Then elderly, her gray hair tied back in a bun, she hoisted her own game boards before a photographer’s lens to prove that she was the game’s true creator.
“Probably, if one counts lawyer’s, printer’s and Patent Office fees used up in developing it,” The Evening Star said, “the game has cost her more than she made from it.”
In 1948, Magie died in relative obscurity, a widow without children. Neither her headstone nor her obituary mentions her role in the creation of Monopoly.
Pilon noted that Magie applied for a patent for The Landlord’s Game in 1903, and detailed another effort of Magie’s that was garnered widespread notice:
Several years after she obtained the patent for her game, and finding it difficult to support herself on the $10 a week she was earning as a stenographer, Magie staged an audacious stunt mocking marriage as the only option for women; it made national headlines. Purchasing an advertisement, she offered herself for sale as a “young woman American slave” to the highest bidder. Her ad said that she was “not beautiful, but very attractive,” and that she had “features full of character and strength, yet truly feminine.”
The ad quickly became the subject of news stories and gossip columns in newspapers around the country. The goal of the stunt, Magie told reporters, was to make a statement about the dismal position of women. “We are not machines,” Magie said. “Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition.”
Wikimedia Commons featured a copy of Magie’s The Landlord’s Game patent, dated January 5 1904 [PDF]. In April 2015, The Guardian published an article about Magie’s invention, quoting her on the purpose of The Landlord’s Game:
She began speaking in public about a new concept of hers, which she called the Landlord’s Game. “It is a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences,” she wrote in a political magazine. “It might well have been called the ‘Game of Life’, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem[s] to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.”
An April 2022 Facebook post claimed that Monopoly was based on an earlier board game called The Landlord’s Game, invented by Lizzie Magie. In 2015, a number of articles about the origins of Monopoly and Magie’s work were published, and Magie’s January 1904 copyright for The Landlord’s Game was readily accessible. Magie patented The Landlord’s Game that year, and Monopoly was sold to Parker Brothers three decades later in 1935.