I know of only three ways to win at the game of Monopoly. First you buy or trade to get a monopoly of all four railroads and the three orange properties; St. James Place, Tennessee Avenue and New York Avenue. On average, players land on the oranges more often because they are just after the Jail. Then you build three houses on each, no hotels. This gives you a return on your investment about every ten times your opponents roll the die. The only way to give yourself a better chance of winning is to either become the banker and embezzle your way to victory, or get the other players to adopt a house rule that subtly favors you, and then apply it mercilessly. Real Wall Street bankers play this way all the time.
Surprisingly few people notice the fundamental capitalistic lesson in Monopoly, which is that you play it with dice. Chance always determines the short term outcome of events, much the same way that derivatives always explode, because sooner or later everybody rolls snake eyes. As proof of this consider what happened to the lady who invented the game of Monopoly. Her name was Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie, a bright, well educated and determined Illinois Quaker lady, who in her late twenties was looking for a cause. See, Quakers had a long history as abolitionists, and the abolition of slavery after the Civil War, left them with an identity crises. “Lizzie” found her new cause in the rantings of a self taught economist with two first names.
All you need to know about Henry George is that in the 1870's he owned a newspaper in San Francisco, and in 1886 he ran for mayor of New York City, coming in second but still beating Republican Teddy Roosevelt – in short, all his life George was a square peg in search of a round hole. He did not believe in free trade, he didn't like Asians, he liked paper money but he hated taxes - income taxes, sales taxes, and capital gains taxes. He sounds very Republican, doesn't he? Well, he was a Socialist- Catholic- Trade Unionist, who thought government should be supported solely by property taxes. But if you think a government supported only by property taxes is a good idea, I suggest you talk to any school board in America.
“Lizzie” Magie was a Henry devotee, and as the 19th century drew to a close, she was living in a interracial community of Brentwood, Maryland, and looking for some way to popularize her hero's ideas. Possessing that odd combination of whimsy and discipline required to design games, Lizzie came up with a joyless plaything she called “The Landlord's Game”. “Children of nine or ten,” she assured potential customers, “can easily understand the game and they get a good deal of hearty enjoyment out of it...The little landlords take a general delight in demanding the payment of their rent.”
Lizzie's innovation was that unlike previous Victorian board games, her's had no beginning or end. It was an endless loop. The four corners of her board were labeled Absolute Necessity - Coal Tax, Public Park, Jail and a globe encircled by a banner reading “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages”. Properties along the straightaways were four railroads, a Water Franchise, four Luxury Lanes, and Easy Street, Lonely Lane, Legacy, the Poor House and Lord Blueblood's Estate (No Trespassing, go to jail), and three other Absolute Necessities – Clothing, Shelter, and Bread. Every time you passed the Labor space you got a hundred bucks, and every time somebody landed on a property it went up for auction. In 1902, “Lizzie” took her new game to America's king of games, George S. Parker
When this George was sixteen he had invented a card game called Banking. Players borrowed money from the bank and the draw from the 160 card deck determined how successful they would be. George invested $40 to print up 500 decks of Banking cards, and sold 488 of them. With that $100 in profit he built an empire, hiring his brothers and issuing similar card games called Klondike Gold Rush and War in Cuba. So, when Lizzie approached him, George found her a kindred spirit and offered a considered critique of “Landlords”. Basically, he said it stunk. “How do you end this game?” he asked, voicing a concern millions of players would repeat over the next 100 years as 2 in the morning approached with no winner in Monopoly. But he also urged her to get her game copyrighted, which Maggie did. She was granted U.S. Patent 748,626 on 5 January 1904. In 1906, the brothers hit it big with George's new card game Rook. Frustrated and almost unnoticed, Lizzie packed her bags and moved to Chicago. And there she started her own game company.
She was supported by other Quakers and followers of Henry George, and in 1906, in Chicago, they formed the Economic Game Company, to publish and distribute the Landlord's Game, with a few modifications. She added a bank, wages, and public transportation in the center of the board. Lizzie kept in contact with the Parker Brothers, who, in 1910, published her her new card game called Mock Trial. Game design wasn't a living, but then Lizzie wasn't in it for the money. She was on a mission. Which is probably why what happened next had little to do with Lizzie.
In 1915 economists Scott Nearing was the most popular lecturer at the Wharton School of Business at Pennsylvania State University. Eventually the trustees would fire him for being a radical, but then eventually the American Communist Party would expel him the same reason. But before he was fired, Nearing introduced The Landlord's game to his students, and they set about spreading it from one fraternity brother to another. Future "new dealer" Rexfordd Guy Tugwell introduced a shortened version the game (called Monopoly Auction) to his classmates at Columbia graduate school of Economics. Another Nearing student, Daniel W. Lyman, started marketing his own shortened version of the game (called Finance) in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he labeled the rental properties with local street names and added Chance and Community Chest cards.
In 1929, school teacher Ruth Hoskins learned the game from her brother, who was friends with Daniel Lyman. Later that year she got a job teaching at the Friends (Quaker) School in Atlantic City, and she introduced the game to her students. When she drew up her version of the game board, she named the properties after streets her students lived on in Atlantic City. But unfamiliar with the area, she misspelled the name of a suburb, Marven Gardens (a combination of two town names – Margate City and Ventor City) as Marvin Gardens. And, since her Quaker students objected to auctions on religious grounds, the game was changed again, so that landing on a property gave you the sole right to buy it, for the price listed on the deed. Once again the game proved very popular.
Ruth's student who lived in Marven Gardens was Charles Todd. He had suggested naming the railroads after real lines. The game's B and O was the Baltimore and Ohio, while the Reading was the Philadelphia and Reading railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad was for many decades the largest railroad in the world, and while The Short Line was not a specific road, it was the general title for any short commuter line. Just as the Great Depression began in earnest in 1932, Charles Todd introduced the game to two new friends who were in a very rough spot.
William Darrow had been a domestic heater salesman in Philadelphia, until the Depression wiped out his livelihood. His was now working at odd jobs, and his wife Esther was pregnant, and one look at the game Monopoly Auction, convinced William that this could be his salvation. Charles Todd would later testify that “Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations, and give them to Darrow.” Whereupon, Darrow asked for two or three copies, which Charles gave him. And with that, William Darrow was on his way to being a millionaire.
Charles drew up the game on oil cloth (copying Ruth's misspelling), his wife and son filled in the colors, and a graphic artist then added the icons of Jake the jailbird and Police Officer Edgar Mallory on the Go to Jail cards. The little rich guy with the top hat, Uncle Pennybags would come later, after Charles copyrighted the game under his own name in 1933 before selling it to Parker Brothers in 1936 as his own invention, which it was not.
The marketing department at Parker Brothers made Monopoly the most popular game in America, and made William Darrow a multimillionaire. He spent the rest of his life traveling the world in luxury. Of course, eventually the lawyers at Parker Brothers realized they had a problem with “Lizzie”. Remember her? But this also gave them power over Darrow. So, first they pressured him to give them the free and clear rights to publish the game outside of the United States, in exchange for taking over all legal costs of defending William against copyright infringement. William Darrow caved under just a little pressure. All that remained was to get Maggie to sign over her rights to her Landlord's Game.
The new president of Parker Brothers, Robert Barton, later testified that he asked Lizzie if she would agree to some changes in her game. He testified later that her answer was “No. This is to teach the Henry George theory of single taxation, and I will not have my game changed in any way whatsoever." So being a good businessman, Barton stopped pushing, bought Lizzie's rights for a measly $500, and an agreement to publish her new version of The Landlord's Game. The third edition was shipped to stores all over the United States in 1939, but Parker Brothers did nothing to promote it. After a few weeks all copies were called back to Parker Brothers and destroyed. By the time Lizzie realized she had been snookered, it was too late. And her game, and its twin named inspiration, were quickly forgotten.
In a way, she had just gotten a lesson in the game she had invented. And Parker Brothers had just gotten a great big Get Out of Jail Free card. And that is the real lesson in Monopoly.