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A New Monopoly Celebrates Women. But What About the Game’s Own Overlooked Inventor?

At the turn of the 20th century, Lizzie Magie created the Landowner’s Game, which sought to teach players about the injustices of wealth concentration

(Hasbro)
smithsonian.com

In “Ms. Monopoly,” a new version of the iconic board game that, according to the company, “celebrates women trailblazers," Rich Uncle Pennybags has been booted, replaced by his niece, a young woman wearing a blazer and holding a cup of coffee (ready for a round of seed funding, presumably).

On Tuesday, Hasbro announced the launch of game, which seeks to both spotlight women’s innovations and call attention to the gender wage gap.

“With all of the things surrounding female empowerment, it felt right to bring this to Monopoly in a fresh new way,” Jen Boswinkel, senior director of global brand strategy and marketing for Hasbro Gaming, tells Kelly Tyko of USA Today. “It’s giving the topic some relevancy to everyone playing it that everybody gets a turn, and this time women get an advantage at the start.”

At the start of the game, female players get more money from the banker than guys—$1,900 versus $1,500—and also collect $240 each time they pass go, rather than the usual $200. Instead of investing in real estate properties, players sink their money into inventions created by women, like “WiFi ... chocolate chip cookies, solar heating and modern shapewear.”

But as Antonia Noori Farzan of the Washington Post reports, critics have been quick to point out that the game does not acknowledge Lizzie Magie, who, at the turn of the 20th century, created the game upon which Monopoly was based. In fact, Charles Darrow, the man widely credited with inventing Monopoly, copied Magie’s idea and sold it to Parker Brothers, which later became a Hasbro brand, Mary Pilon, author of The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, explained in a 2017 Smithsonian article. Darrow became fabulously wealthy, while Magie, who sold her patent to Parker Brothers for a mere $500, was largely forgotten.

Ironically, the game that Magie invented was anti-monopolist in sentiment. She subscribed to the principles of Henry George, an American economist who believed that “individuals should own 100 percent of what they made or created, but that everything found in nature, particularly land, should belong to everyone,” Pilon wrote in the New York Times in 2015. Magie’s game, which she patented in 1904, sought to spread George’s ideas about the injustices of a system that allowed landowners to grow increasingly rich off their holdings, while the working classes poured their money into rent.

It was called the Landowner’s Game, and it consisted of a rectangular board with nine spaces on each side, along with corners for the Poor House, Public Park and Jail, where you would get sent if you landed on the “Go to Jail” square. Players would move around the board, buying up various franchises, earning money and paying rent. But there were two sets of rules for the game: one “anti-monopolist,” in which all players were rewarded when wealth was generated, the other “monopolist,” in which the goal was to accrue wealth while crippling the other players. “Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior,” Pilon wrote in the Times.

“Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system,” Magie herself wrote in a 1902 article, “and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.”

The game proved popular among left-leaning intellectuals, and various communities began to make their own versions of the game to include local landmarks. It was an iteration created by Quakers in Atlantic City—which boasts a Boardwalk and a Park Place—that Darrow first encountered in 1932. He was, at the time, an unemployed heating engineer, but his fortunes would change when he sold the game, with the Quakers’ modifications, to Parker Brothers in 1935. In a letter to the company, Darrow claimed the idea as his own.

“Being unemployed at the time, and badly needing anything to occupy my time, I made by hand a very crude game for the sole purpose of amusing myself,” he wrote, according to Farzan.

Magie was initially happy to sell her patent to Parker Brothers, hoping that the company’s backing would help her philosophies reach a mass audience. But Monopoly, which continues to be a best-seller, was ultimately a celebration of enterprising capitalism—the very opposite of the message that Magie hoped to convey.

In the wake of the release of Ms. Monopoly, a Hasbro spokeswoman stressed to the Los Angeles Times that “The Monopoly game as we know it was invented by Charles Darrow, who sold his idea to Parker Brothers in 1935.”

“However,” the spokeswoman continued, “there have been a number of popular property-trading games throughout history. Elizabeth Magie—a writer, inventor and feminist—was one of the pioneers of land-grabbing games.”

In the eyes of Magie’s modern-day admirers, Ms. Monopoly cannot truly pay tribute to women inventors without recognizing the woman who gave rise to the iconic game.

“If @Hasbro actually wanted to celebrate women’s empowerment with their new ‘Ms. Monopoly’ game,” Pilon tweeted, “why not *finally* acknowledge that a woman invented Monopoly in the first place?”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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