A History of Monopoly (the Board Game)

When you think of Monopoly today, the first things that come to mind are usually “Jail,” “Go,” and a rainbow of brightly colored property spaces.

But, did you know that Monopoly has a hidden past? The Monopoly that families today have learned to love and play is far different from the game’s origins. Remarkably, the history of monopoly is a genuinely contradictory one.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Monopoly has threatened to tear my family apart on more than one occasion while playing. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that, though.

I grew up playing Monopoly, and I could hardly wait for my son to grow old enough to teach him the game (my daughter is next). With such a game so deeply rooted into my family tree, I became curious one day to find out more.

So, today, I want to share with you an accumulation of my findings. Welcome to the history of Monopoly, where you will discover:

  • The origins of Monopoly
  • The 1930’s version of Monopoly
  • How Monopoly has changed since the 1930s
  • A brief history of the tokens of Monopoly

Without further ado, let’s GO!

Origins of Monopoly

Although Parker Brothers and Hasbro are names that might come to mind thanks to the board game Monopoly, the history of the game goes much further back than either of their grasps.

The Landlord’s Game

The Landlord's Game

The origins of Monopoly go as far back as 1903, when a progressive woman by the name of Elizabeth, or Lizzie, Magie filed a legal claim for her game, known as The Landlord’s Game.

The Landlord’s game is a contradiction of Monopoly as we know it today: Magie had initially created the game to protest the big-name monopolists at the time, namely Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

When Magie created the game, she established two different sets of rules for her Landlord’s Game; anti-monopolist and monopolist. The idea behind having two opposing sets of rules was to display that the anti-monopolist strategy proved superior in morality.

Anti-Monopolist Rules

In Magie’s anti-monopolist rules for The Landlord’s Game, every player feels the rewards anytime the game generates wealth.

Monopolist Rules

The monopolist rules to Magie’s The Landlord’s Game, unfortunately for her, are the ones that gained popularity. In this ruleset, which we are familiar with today, the players’ goal is to develop monopolies and crush their opponents.

The Result

Despite Magie’s best efforts to heighten awareness surrounding forming monopolies’ moral dilemma, the monopolist rules were wildly popular. Eventually, a man named Charles Darrow would take these rules and develop his own game, which he would later sell to Parker Brothers. 

It is believed that Magie profited a mere $500 in total from her creation of The Landlord’s Game.

Ironically, Monopoly turned out to be almost the opposite of Magie’s intention. 

Without speaking to the politics, perhaps Magie was out of her time, as cooperative board games have more recently gained popularity.

Perhaps if Magie had lived in modern times, things would have been different.  A Landlord’s game introduced today, might have turned into Anti-Monopoly instead!

The First Monopoly Board Game

In 1932, Charles and his wife, Esther, Darrow were invited to the home of their friends, businessman Charles Todd and his wife, Olive.

Charles and Olive Todd would introduce their newfound board game, The Landlord’s Game, to the Darrows. 

Charles Darrow developed a fascination for the game, so he made Todd write up a set of rules. Since there were seemingly no written rules to the game and Darrow hadn’t heard of the game before their encounter, he began distributing it himself and calling it The Monopoly Game.

Check out this video for some great information and visuals on the first Monopoly game, and the Landlord’s game:

1930’s Monopoly

The history of the board game that most are familiar with involves a struggling Charles Darrow selling his game amidst the crippling US Depression. 

Darrow would invent, or re-invent, Monopoly, later selling it to Parker Brothers in 1935 after selling nearly 5,000 homemade versions of the game under his name.

Darrow would make millions from this deal with Parker Brothers in which he received generous royalties.

The “original” Parker Brothers Version of the board game involved contributions from a famous cartoonist, F.O. Alexander, and was based on streets in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Once Parker Brothers took over marketing the board game, sales began to explode in the United States and abroad. Different versions of the game were also created to serve unique purposes. 

Small Box 1935 Monopoly Edition

In 1936 Parker Brothers took the game of Monopoly overseas.

The first Parker Brothers Monopoly board game has many things that modern-day players would recognize, including the Battleship and Top Hat tokens.  This, to me, is the first version of Monopoly as I know it.

Monopoly Since the 1930s

Since the “original” Monopoly of the 1930s, there have been many events surrounding the beloved board game. Surprisingly, Monopoly has played a large role in history worldwide.

1940-1970

British Secret Intelligence Service Monopoly

Then, in 1941 in the middle of World War II, the British Secret Intelligence Service reached out to the United Kingdom’s licensed Monopoly manufacturer for their assistance.

John Waddington Ltd. would create a particular WWII version of Monopoly explicitly produced for prisoners of war the Nazis were holding.

The board game was to be provided to soldiers through made-up charities that the British Secret Service had created for this operation. Within the board game contents, prisoners would find tools to help them escape, such as a map, compass, real currency, etc.

Dutch Monopoly

During the Nazi occupation throughout the Netherlands this time, German governments wanted to rid board games of American or British information. As a result, a unique Netherland-specific Monopoly version was created and distributed with Dutch locations on the board.

Even to this day, this version of the game can still be found in the Netherlands, as there were no pro-Nazi materials in the game.

After the War

Although World War II saw spies using Monopoly, the game’s retail version suffered from a lack of materials.

Post-WWII really saw the game take off as it became more popular and was published in more countries.

Esperanto edition of Monopolo. Source: Golfestro . CC 4.0 License

The 1970s-1980s

Anti Monopoly

In 1973, an economics professor named Ralph Anspach published a board game called Anti-Monopoly, which would result in a lawsuit brought on by Parker Brothers the following year. Parker Brothers sued Anspach for trademark infringement. Ultimately, Anspach won on appeals, although Parker Brothers continued to push the case to the United States Supreme Court. 

Eventually, Anspach settled with the Monopoly owners. It was during research for these trials, that the game’s true origins, including The Landlord’s Game, were brought to light.

Monopoly in Braille

Of all the Monopoly editions, one of my favorites is the Braille version, first published in the US in 1973.

This is because rather than just another take on the same theme, this version enabled even more people to enjoy and play the game.

As well as Braille text, the board included edges around the properties and card spaces so blind people could recognize them.

This game isn’t just for the blind, though; the text is larger to help partially sighted people play.  This means, of course, larger cards.

The 1990s to Present Day

Hasbro came to acquire Parker Brothers in 1991, becoming owners of the board game Monopoly. Under Parker Brother’s ownership, Monopoly was only publishing two versions of the game at a time; regular and deluxe. Hasbro, however, took the game to the next level by creating multiple versions.

Hasbro historically sought public input for ideas for Monopoly variations and changes. Since their acquisition in the early 1990s, they have since added new features such as:

  • New editions of Monopoly
  • Speed rules
  • Optional rules
  • New game pieces

Today, you will find editions of Monopoly in nearly any fandom you seek. These editions are far from the original versions of The Landlord’s Game, or Monopoly, but add to the beloved family game’s continued popularity.

There is even a Socialist Monopoly Edition.  Yet if you think that this is the game returning full circle to the Landlord’s game–prepare to be disappointed. Let’s just say it isn’t something socialists are likely to rush into buying!

Monopoly Editions

Since Hasbro’s acquisition in 1991, Monopoly has seen many different editions and variations worldwide. Some of the variations of the traditional Monopoly board game include:

Monopoly City Editions

Monopoly has released many versions of the game for different cities around the world.  I recommend checking out if there’s a version for where you live.

What a great way to familiarize your children with your home city!

Monopoly Here and Now

Initially released in 2006, the Monopoly Here and Now showcased the different landmarks across the United States. Hasbro polled voters online to determine the various properties on the board.

Monopoly Cheaters’ Edition

This is probably my least favorite edition of Monopoly.  I definitely wouldn’t recommend playing with children, and to be honest, I’m not sure most 18-year-olds are ready for this.

I’m not a massive fan of games that encourage cheating, but Monopoly’s game style makes it worse.  You win by making everyone bankrupt, plus cheating is OK as long as you don’t get caught, is NOT a great combination.

Do not play this game with friends and family–unless you are prepared to lose them!

Monopoly Token Madness

The Monopoly Token Madness edition includes eight extras tokens in the board set. These gold pieces have unique designs of; a penguin, racecar, Mr. Monopoly emoji, television, rubber ducky, watch, wheel, and bunny slipper.

Monopoly Jackpot

In Monopoly Jackpot, players move around the property as expected, but the game’s goal is to have the most cash when the bank inevitably crashes.

If this game sounds like a comment on the 2008-2009 financial crisis, well, it just might be!  The game came out in 2016, implying a long development time…

Monopoly: Ultimate Banking Edition

Monopoly: Ultimate Banking Edition focuses on electronic banking, so there is no paper money involved.

Instead, all the money is electronically tracked by the Bank using something similar to contactless technology.

Of course, you have your credit card!

This is exciting as other innovations like event cards and property prices rising and falling really make for a different game.

Original Gameplay

Still, you can find the original versions of the game, which prove to withstand the test of time despite any new technology, pieces, or elements, Hasbro has added to the game.

Like Beano Monopoly or Pokemon Monopoly, many editions have fundamentally the same gameplay but use a different theme.  This can be exciting for children as they get to play with familiar characters and places.

What a nice way to introduce a game to a young child.

History of Monopoly Tokens / Pieces

Monopoly Game tokens: Car, Boot, Iron and Boat
4 Monopoly Tokens. Source: Bengt Oberger, Original, CC 3.0 License

Tokens, or game pieces, are each assigned to a player at the start of the game. The tokens move around the board according to the numbers shown on the dice.  

Typically tokens are made of metal.

Much like the game itself, the tokens have a history that has changed with time.

Original 1935Early 1935Mid 1935Late 193519431999200020072017 to Current
1Battle-shipBattle-shipBattle-shipBattle-shipBattle-shipBattle-shipBattle-shipBattle-shipBattle-ship
2BootBootBootBootBootBootBootBoot+Cat
3CannonCannonCannonCannonCannonCannonIronIron+Penguin
4IronIronIronIronHorse & riderHorse & riderMoney bagRacecarRacecar
5Thimble+Racecar+PurseLanternIronIronRacecarScottie dog+Rubber ducky
6TophatThimbleRacecarPurseRacecarMoney bagScottie dogThimbleScottie dog
7TophatThimbleRacecarScottie dogRacecarThimbleTop hat+T. rex
8TophatRocking horseThimbleScottie dogTop hatWheel-barrowTop hat
9ThimbleTop hatThimbleWheel-barrow
10TophatWheel-barrowTop hat
11Wheel-barrow

Original Tokens

The original game tokens for Monopoly included six metal pieces. Shortly after the first release, in 1935, another four pieces would be added. By the end of 1935, there were a total of ten tokens.

War-Time Tokens

Because of the need for metal through the war, the production of metal Monopoly pieces ceased. Some games had tokens that were made of compressed paper and sawdust, although they were very fragile. Other games used wood pawns or cardboard cut-outs.

Current Tokens

A day before World Monopoly Day, March 19, in 2017, Hasbro announced that they would be replacing the thimble, boot, and wheelbarrow tokens beginning in August. Today, there are currently eight tokens in each Monopoly board set.

Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to use the provided tokens.  For example, if you’re a traditionalist and miss the thimble, why not use a real one?  

I’ve played with my son with toy micro-cars instead of the provided tokens. The slight problem that they tended to roll off their spot was worth it for the added fun!

I would recommend trying to have 4 to 6 players for the most gameplay fun, yet if you want more than 8, equally, you can just add tokens.

Conclusion

It’s hard to imagine that a family board game could have a history much like Monopoly. From hidden origins to saving actual prisoners of war, it makes you grow a deeper appreciation for where the game’s history.

Even though we were already big fans of the game, for my family, finding out its history just helped secure its place in our home and future family homes that much more.


Monopoly is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to board games with fascinating origin stories. If you liked this history, I suggest going back further in time with my guide to ancient board games.