The Subversive Origin Of the Monopoly Board Game (3 min read)

We’ve all played Monopoly. You go around the board, try to accumulate sets of properties (ideally the green and dark blue ones), build hotels and then drive everyone else into bankruptcy. It can often drag on and on, but it’s worth the wait if it means you defeat your siblings. But did you know that this celebration of monopolistic capitalism was actually based on a game that was meant to show the evils of monopolies?!

Show the Harm Of the 1%

Elizabeth Magie (see picture), an American, was a huge supporter of the concept of “Georgism”. This was the idea laid out by the nineteenth-century economist Henry George that the wealth accrued from land should be shared equally amongst all members of society (through a land or single tax), whereas wealth accrued from businesses should remain with the wealth-creator. Wealth derived from land was often inherited and lead much wider and persistent inequalities in society.

Elizabeth thought a board game would be the best way of doing this, and in 1903 she created “The Landlord’s Game”. It was a “practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences”.

Take Your Pick

The board looked like the modern-day Monopoly (see picture), but it had two versions – an anti-monopolist version and a monopolist version. The “anti-monopolist rules/ single tax rules” rewarded everyone from the wealth accrued from land. Land rent would be paid into a Public Treasury, and house rent would go to the player who built a house. When the Public Treasury had built up enough money, it would then provide free education and transport, which would help all players. The game would end when the player with the lowest monetary amount had doubled their original stake. Everybody would then be the winner.

Meanwhile, the “monopoly rules” version was similar to the game we have today. The goal was to form monopolies and drive everyone else into bankruptcy. Elizabeth hoped that people, especially children, would play both versions and realise the evils of monopoly and concentrated land ownership.

Greed Wins

While the intentions were noble, the dark side of humanity intervened. In the early 1930s,a chap called Charles Darrow was introduced to the game, and he much preferred the “monopoly rules” version. He then patented it, and made millions from the subsequent popularity of the game. Elizabeth meanwhile was paid a pittance for the original patent without full knowledge of the aim to launch only the Monopoly version. Conveniently, her part in the history of the game was erased.

Bring It Back!

So if Monopoly represents inequality, then the Anti-Monopoly version of The Landlord’s Game represents fairness. Perhaps, now is the time to bring back that game. Anyone know how to resurrect the game?!



3 thoughts on “The Subversive Origin Of the Monopoly Board Game (3 min read)”

  1. Excellent piece– never new there was so much to a game of monopoly– poor Elizabeth good idea though i feel “the landlord’s game” wouldn’t have taken off as much as monoply so I dont think she lost out on all that much, comment from

    1. Yes, I think you’re right, though I think it would have been cool if the game had existed even for a niche

  2. Would have been a collectors item because I’m sure only a few would have sold, I’m a collector of board games, have many very rare ones in my collection, some dating from 1700s, would be happy to share with you if you email me

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