Monopoly is the best-selling privately patented board game in history, with over 250 million games sold to date. It first rose to popularity in the US during the Great Depression. In 1935, Charles B. Darrow, an unemployed heating engineer, sold the concept to Parker Brothers. However, it wasn’t Darrow who invented the original version of the game. In fact, the Monopoly we’re familiar with today actually uses similar gameplay as the original game, but with a much different end goal.
In 1904, Lizzie G. Magie designed and patented the Landlord’s Game, a game in which players navigated around a board buying properties and paying rent. Notably, Magie’s version did not involve the concept of a monopoly. The point of her game was to represent the exploitation of tenants by greedy landlords. The Landlord’s Game was intended to promote the single tax on property owners, a leading social issue among those who saw land speculation as a cause of economic injustice.
In the early 1900s, there were many homemade versions of Magie’s game circulating throughout the country, which is how Darrow was first introduced to the concept. After playing the Landlord’s Game at a friend’s house in 1932, Darrow made some tweaks to the game and rebranded it as Monopoly. Both Darrow and Parker Brothers marketed the game as the brainchild of an out-of-work engineer, despite its actual origin as a variation of Magie’s decades-long work.
According to Hasbro, the company that now owns Monopoly after acquiring Parker Brothers in 1991, more than one billion people have played Monopoly throughout the game’s history. Given its widespread popularity, it may come as no surprise that many of the elements of the game are now staples in popular culture.
One of the most recognizable symbols of the game is its long-standing mascot, Mr. Monopoly. While it hasn’t officially been confirmed by the original artist, it’s widely believed that Mr. Monopoly (initially named Rich Uncle Milburn Pennybags) was modeled after powerful investment banker J.P. Morgan. He isn’t drawn with much detail, but he does mirror several of the same features as J.P. Morgan, including his hairstyle, facial hair, and body type.
The game tokens that players move around the board have also become synonymous with Monopoly. The design of the tokens was reported inspired by the charms on Darrow’s niece’s charm bracelet. In the first version of Monopoly released by Parker Brothers in 1935, the six tokens included were a top hat, thimble, iron, shoe, battleship, and cannon. Since then, many new options have been introduced and the tokens included can vary based on the game edition and year of release.
In the classic version of Monopoly, the spaces on the board are named after real-life places in Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, over 300 different licensed versions of the game have also been released, with options like Stranger Things, The Lord of the Rings, Black Panther, and Animal Crossing, to name a few. These editions include properties inspired by the theme. For example, The Lord of the Rings board includes spaces like the Black Gate of Mordor, Rivendell, and Helm’s Deep.
In 1988, an 18-karat gold, jewel-encrusted version of Monopoly was created by San Francisco jeweler Sidney Mobell. Mobell was inspired to create the ornate game in honor of a Monopoly tournament taking place in London. The prized set is valued at approximately $2 million and was only played one time, in a match between Mobell and Britain’s former Prime Minster Edward Heath.
For Monopoly enthusiasts without several million dollars to burn, there’s plenty of merchandise available outside of the game itself to show off your fandom. The Haboro site lists options like a Mr. Monopoly Funko POP!, water bottles, snowboards, and more Monopoly-themed products for sale.
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