It's the world's best-selling board game and an American icon. But why were locations in the shore resort of Atlantic City, N. J., chosen for the 70-year-old...
It’s the world’s best-selling board game and an American icon. But why were locations in the shore resort of Atlantic City, N.J., chosen for the 70-year-old Monopoly game?
Even the most avid players might not know the answer, according to Rod Kennedy Jr., “creator” of the new book “Monopoly: The Story Behind the World’s Best-Selling Game” (Gibbs Smith, $19.95). And he says they’ve been missing out on a good story.
The book’s text was written by freelancer Jim Waltzer in association with the Atlantic City Historical Museum. The 94-page book includes historical photographs.
“Like most people, I loved and played Monopoly and was fascinated to learn the streets were real,” said Kennedy in an interview from his home in New York. “We all just sort of see them and play them. Whoever heard of Atlantic Avenue or Pacific Avenue unless they live along the shore? It was one of the great discoveries of my life to learn that they really do exist in a place called Atlantic City.”
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Kennedy, 60, played Monopoly as a child with his family. “I just loved the game — it’s more than a game, it’s part of our heritage (as Americans), part of our psyche, part of our culture.
“The family had a set, and it was sort of a tradition on weekends and on rainy Saturdays and Sundays to get together and play.”
Then, in his 30s, Kennedy learned that Pacific, North Carolina, Ventnor, Atlantic, Indiana and Kentucky avenues were actual locations, not just part of child’s play.
“I hopped on a bus … and got down there and saw the funky piers,” like the Steel Pier and Million Dollar Pier, which featured rides, games and live entertainment, “and huge, wonderful hotels,” Kennedy recalled of his ñ973 trip. “I love Americana, and Atlantic City is certainly Americana personified.”
Monopoly started as a homemade diversion tailored to the local geography by players in different states.
When Parker Brothers purchased the rights to the game in ñ935, the company was presented with the Atlantic City locale — and it stuck.
Parker Brothers is now a brand name of Hasbro Games, based in East Longmeadow, Mass. Mark Morris, a spokesman for the company, said there are many players on whom the Atlantic City connection to the game is lost, though Hasbro mentions the connection in its literature.
“We have it in our fact sheets every time” information is given out about the background of Monopoly, he said. “We talk about how those streets are named after streets in Atlantic City. At the time it was America’s playground, a famous place where a lot of people vacationed.”
The Monopoly story starts decades before the game was patented by Charles B. Darrow of Philadelphia and licensed by Parker Brothers.
What came to be known as Monopoly was originally The Landlord’s Game, a 40-space board game patented in ñ904 by Elizabeth J. Magie, a Virginia native. “She believed in her Quaker teachings and the power of economics,” Kennedy said, as well as in a redistribution of wealth advocated by the popular Philadelphia-born social reformer Henry George.
The Landlord’s Game included a starting point, labeled “Mother Earth,” and railroads, utilities and a “Go to Jail” square in the corner. Players traveled clockwise along a square path, and generic real estate was offered for sale or rent.
By 1910 the game was being played by members of an experimental community in Arden, Del., that adopted George’s teachings. Called “single taxers,” they embraced his theory that land is a free gift of nature to which all men have equal right, and that it is unfair for some to grow wealthy by holding on to land that increases in value.
Hybrid versions, with various rules and changes to property names and streets, made their way to other states. It became known as the Monopoly game.
In ñ924, the game’s creator, by then using her married name of Elizabeth Magie Phillips, got a second patent for The Landlord’s Game. She shifted the goal from bankrupting the opposition to creating an economic footing among contestants by rescuing “poor” players.
Later, Indianapolis resident Ruth Hoskins became familiar with the “folk game.”
Hoskins, also a Quaker, became a teacher at the Friends School in Atlantic City in ñ929. She tailored the rules and board, using Atlantic City street names, including those on which players in her circle lived.
Two Atlantic City players introduced Philadelphia hotelier Charles E. Todd to the game. An acquaintance, Charles B. Darrow, sensed the game’s potential as a larger-scale hit and obtained the copyright for the Atlantic City-flavored version in ñ933.
Darrow made the plain-looking game board into the colorful favorite it is today. In 1934, he pitched the Monopoly game to Parker Brothers. But it wasn’t until the following year — after he peddled it on his own to demonstrate its appeal — that Darrow and Parker Brothers reached a deal and patented Monopoly.
Parker Brothers also purchased the rights to the Magie Phillips patent and to the patent for a game called Finance, since Monopoly was similar to both.
Since then, Monopoly has sold more than 750 million sets in 80 countries and has been produced in 26 languages.
There are more than 100 versions for sale, including New England Monopoly, San Diego Monopoly, U.S. Air Force Monopoly, The ’60s Monopoly, Disney Monopoly and Betty Boop Monopoly.
“It’s great for kids and adults,” Kennedy said. “I still have a set today. I think (the appeal) is the role-playing. You really can get into it. You’ve got to get a cigar and you’ve got to get booze … and then you’re ready to be a big tycoon.”