In February 1935, Parker Brothers began selling their classic board game Monopoly, a game of money and real estate that has become an American favorite. It has also caused numerous screaming matches in my household. How many of your readers have flipped a table when your friend has blocked you from being able to build any hotels?
According to Philip Orbane’s book Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How it Got that Way, Lizzie J. Magie Phillips developed a board game in 1906 called The Landlord’s Game, an educational game that taught the dangers of real estate monopolies. Her game spawned the Parker Brothers’ version, based on Atlantic City, New Jersey. Over the years, Monopoly has produced a number of its own spinoffs, including New York City Monopoly, Doctor Who Monopoly, Batman Monopoly, Yankees Monopoly, and more.
There have also been unsanctioned knockoffs, some that come with their share of controversy. In October 2003, the New York Times reported on heated opposition to the new game “Ghettopoly,” which was being sold at Urban Outfitters stores throughout the region. Though intended as humorous rather than degrading, the game provoked outrage in many circles. Kweisi Mfume, President of the NAACP, condemned the game as “a racist and bigoted product attempting to hide behind the cloak of entertainment.” Protestors, including Yale students and members of the local NAACP, gathered in front of Urban Outfitters stores, where games were flying off the shelves. Under pressure, the national chain finally pulled the game from its stores.
Over 500 board games from the 1820s through the 1940s were donated to the New-York Historical Society in 2000 by Ellen Liman. That period was a time when the American home, no longer the heart of economic production, became the center of education, entertainment, and moral enlightenment. Middle-class families—with expanded leisure time as well as rising income levels—embraced leisure pursuits in the home and encouraged their children to play games that would develop skills and provide moral instruction. It was also a period when New York became the heart of the chromolithography business and the nation’s board game industry. Come see some of these games on display in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum!