Monopoly’s Hidden Origins

Below is an image of a patent file from early 1904 of a game board. If you look close enough, you might notice it looks kind of familiar. Go to jail, the bank, taxes, rent and sale prices…Indeed, this is the patent for The Landlord’s Game, the predecessor to Monopoly.


The game created by Lizzie Magie, partially as a tool to teach a brand of economics called Georgism. In the interest and at the risk of gross oversimplification, Georgism promoted heavily taxing land owners (and little else) to rectify the perceived problem that land ownership necessarily leads to the exploitation of tenants and the establishment of — yep — real estate monopolies. Magie meant to use The Landlord’s Game to demonstrate the value of Georgist policies by exploring the troubles of real estate.

(Monopoly has been looked at through a critical lens more recently. “[L]ooking at Monopoly in post-recession 2010, the rules seem like a sure way to crash an economy: The bank can never run out of money, mortgages are easy to get, and when you build houses the rent always goes up,” reads an NPR article.)

Anyway, Magie first published the game two years after securing the patent in 1906. Over the next 30 years it kinda-sorta got around, finding its ways into some business and economics classes and traveling largely by word of mouth. (Magie patented a second version of the game in 1924.) One fellow, named Charles Darrow, eventually — ahem — adapted the game in the heart of the Depression and got a copyright for what he called Monopoly.

On the basis of strong holiday sales, Parker Brothers acquired the game in early 1935. The rest, as they say, is history. Everything before it, however, is somewhat lost to it: Parker Brothers — despite having published other games created by Magie, despite even that it put out a limited run of The Landlord’s Game in 1939 — doesn’t acknowledge her role in the creation of its most enduring game.

photo credit: Mike Fleming, Creative Commons/flickr