Storyline I: The Secret History (of Monopoly)
- A phone caller claims the official Monopoly history is bogus.
- Joanna no-name: The failed search for the real inventors of Monopoly
- Detective work
- Darrow’s wife encounters a high school friend
- The Quakers
- Corporate operation “Darrow cleanup”, and the black box
- The Monopoly swindle is hatched
- Did a woman invent Monopoly?
- Seduction and double betrayal
- The patent fraud which rescued Parker Brothers
- A faked Monopoly history covers up the swindle
- The Atlantic City truth squad adventure
- Monopoly history goes to court
- Whitewash the corporation and salvage Darrow
- Honoring the Atlantic City Quakers
- Computer revolution, true Monopoly history makes Anti-Monopoly possible
Storyline II: The Anti-Monopoly legal fight
- A Monopoly game played, while oil producers monopolize world’s oil supply.
- Invention and failed attempts to find a company to produce game
- Perils of production proves Murphy’s law
- Commercial success triggers a take-over move
- Blunting the first attack launched by Monopoly
- 40,000 Anti-Monopoly® games buried in a garbage dump
- Anti-Monopoly rebounds, and the Minnesota garbage dump dig
- Supreme Court battle with Big Business,….. and Kenneth Star
- Computer revolution makes possible the new Anti-Monopoly®
- The courts trample on Antitrust enforcement
- How Monopoly dumps the competition
- Anti-Monopoly® plans to enter the new world of computers
* Some of the chapter names have been changed to better reflect their content.
What game inspires more genuine nostalgia than Monopoly? Who hasn’t experienced some memorable hours spent with family or friends playing with make-believe money and savoring riches or suffering the agony of running out of money? My rite of passage happened in a ski lodge in Czechoslovakia of all places during a 1937 winter holiday. I remember, as if it was only yesterday, trying to warm up in front of a roaring fireplace when I heard my older brother, Gerry, call me: “Hey, kid. We need another player for Monopoly. Come on over here!” I ambled over to his group of older boys very slowly because nothing in the world would make me give them the impression that I was submitting to his older- brother will–but I couldn’t have been happier to be invited by him to play with his four years older friends. “What’s Monopoly?” I asked, excruciated having to ask. “Where have you been all your life, Ralph?” he asked. “How come you haven’t heard of Monopoly?” “Oh give him a break,” said another one of the older boys. “It’s only been around a few years.”
It took me forty years, during which I played quite a few Monopoly games and even watched my kids enjoy and fight over the game, to discover that my brother’s friend had been dead wrong about how new Monopoly was in 1937. He had been conned probably by the massive publicity which had fooled the rest of the world. Actually monopoly had been played all over the Eastern United States from about 1910 on. People played it, shared it with their friends, and had a lot of fun. The game equipment was created by each team of players, painstakingly carved out on wooden boards, sketched on oil cloths, and even dyed on linen bridge table covers. The fun they had would intersect with my life in a totally unexpected way in the 1970s when I invented the first of two board games as a sort of antidote to what had began to irk me about Monopoly. True, it’s fun to roll the dice, buy properties, corner the market and bankrupt the competition. OK, it’s not so much fun to be driven out of the game but there’s always the next time.
But what had begun to bother me is that the game is not just about making money, it’s about making money by monopolizing things. It gives the players a good feeling about something which hurts people in real life. There, monopolists pick your pockets with exorbitantly high prices, keep some of the best products out of the market, impede innovation, and stop the little guy from making his dream come true through a business venture. And if the small businessman beats the odds, they crush him with unfair business tactics. I called the games Anti-Monopoly. I added a lot of humor which I thought was a little lacking in Monopoly. I tested the games with friends and students, most of whom loved them and said they were even more fun than Monopoly. My family got in on the venture. I mobilized friends and investors. But Murphy’s law gummed up the business start-up for two long years. Still, we prevailed and Anti-Monopoly took off.
In just two years it sold 400,000 copies, sending me out on a tour of talk shows across the country. We were on our way. We thought. Except that one of the largest corporations in America crashed the party like an uninvited bully and caused a lot of mayhem. It sued on behalf of Rich Uncle Pennybags and the game he symbolized. This started a ten-year court battle during which I had to fight for my survival. That got me into the detective business to learn the truth about the origins of the world’s most popular board game – who invented it and who stole it. One phone call on a TV show got me started and I traveled coast-to-coast uncovering pieces of the Monopoly puzzle. I discovered the most ironic twist of all: the game which glorified monopolies was itself illegally monopolized to get rid of the competition and consumers got gouged on the deal, just like in the real world.
During my investigations, I collected mountains of evidence which cost a lot of the money that I had made from my board games. I also made dear friends with people that were more than willing to tell their stories. It was like they had just waited for someone to come along to expose the truth. That’s what it was really about – I had to learn the truth. This is my story. The story of a little professor and a tiny company defending themselves against a giant corporate monopoly for the right to run our own business and sell our games to entertain people and even teach them something about our economy–if they don’t watch out. The story of the unmasking of a giant swindle. The story of how my case ended up in the United States Supreme Court with all of corporate America ganging up on me and even Kenneth Starr poised to do me in. The story of not giving up even after seeing 40,000 Anti-Monopoly games plowed into a garbage dump by corporate bullying tactics. The story of life imitating art so closely and in so many different ways that it was hard to tell them apart. But finally, this is the story of an average human being, with all its laughs and sorrows, whom the big business establishment couldn’t plow under no matter how hard it tried.
A Strange Phone Conversation
( Note : To avoid confusion about the name of the game, it will be spelled as monopoly when it refers to the public domain folk game played before Parker Brothers got involved with it and as Monopoly when it refers to Parker Brothers’ commercialized game.)
It’s August 20, 1974. I’m sitting in a television studio on a sweltering day in Portland, Oregon flogging the Anti-Monopoly game I had invented about three years earlier. Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on the events which led up to that summer day but Portland is a good place to start this story because that’s where I got my first whiff of the Monopoly swindle. I was in a pretty good mood because the studio was air conditioned and my lawyer had just left a message at the hotel desk that we had scored a big one in the legal wars which swirled around my game. A Canadian judge had just denied a motion by Parker Brothers to have Anti-Monopoly banned from the Canadian market. It wasn’t an outstandingly good mood, though, because Canada is not the United States and the lawyer had added that our adversary was going ahead with the same skullduggery in San Francisco in two weeks. Oh well, at least I wasn’t in Cyprus where the Turkish-Greek conflict raged on.
In the United States, the Vietnam War was winding down, the Watergate scandal had just led to the resignation of a president, and the punishment phase of Watergate was beginning with Nixon’s men about to be tried for their part in the cover-up. The game company I had created to my Anti-Monopoly game was pushing me into these publicity tours to regenerate our sales because Parker Brothers’ legal assault had melted down our purchase orders from about a million to 30,000. The trips had quickly degenerated from the glamour of being a media personality to a weary life of airport hassles, plastic hotel rooms and avalanches of bad food in the air and on the ground. Still, this show was not too bad. It was a public television interview program with listener call-ins which meant conversations with a host which went a mile beyond the usual sound bites sandwiched between irritating interruptions for commercials. The phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook which allowed me to talk about the game and the legal problems in a leisurely fashion. I had picked up on the Watergate angle to give a current event flavor to my spiel. I explained to the host and the invisible audience on the other side of the ether out there that I had decided to publish Anti-Monopoly on my own after a string of rejections from established game companies precisely because the Watergate scandals had put the spotlight on the excesses of monopolists and the importance of the antitrust laws.
”If you remember,” I told the microphone, “one of the scandals was that ITT had paid for the rental of the hall in which the Republicans were picking Nixon to run for his second term. ITT hadn’t shelled out such money just because they liked Pat Nixon’s hairdo. The quid pro quo was getting Nixon to call off the dogs of his Antitrust Department which was objecting to ITT gobbling up the country’s biggest insurance company, Hartford Insurance.” At which point, the phone finally rang which made the host very happy since it was proof positive that at least one person was watching. A Mrs. Stevenson joined us. “First of all Dr. Anspach, I hate to date myself with a story going back all the way to the mid-thirties, but I think Parker Brothers has a lot of nerve suing you for getting a free ride on their game when they stole Monopoly in the first place.” “They what it?” I said and paused, afraid even to breathe her word since I didn’t want a libel suit slapped on us. We were having enough trouble with the other one. After all, I, like everybody else in the world, knew exactly how Monopoly had been invented and theft had nothing to do with it. On the contrary, what had happened was one of the best-known chronicles of Yankee ingenuity and well-rewarded initiative. This inspirational real-life story was found on every instruction sheet inserted into every Monopoly box so that people could dream of the real wealth to be earned in this land of opportunity as they played with make-believe Monopoly money. And if the players missed the story on the rules, they got a chance to read all about it in its perennial retelling in newspapers, magazine articles, and books, or to hear about it on radio and TV shows.
The hero was Charles B. Darrow, a Philadelphian who had lost his job in the Great Depression which caused terrible hardship to his pregnant wife and little son. But Darrow did not despair or look for welfare handouts. He worked odd jobs and also tinkered with ideas for new toys. One evening, Darrow, “having nothing better to do”, sat down at his kitchen table and “devised out of thin air” a game in which people could fantasize about riches no longer attainable during this collapse of our capitalist system. He had the genius to give his brainchild the catchy name of Monopoly. A particularly poignant part of his story explained why this Philadelphian chose Atlantic City street names like Marvin Gardens for the properties on the board rather than the streets of his own city. It made wonderful sense. Atlantic City reminded him of happier days when his family could still afford to soak in the sun on the beaches of America’s most famous summer resort, promenade on the bustling boardwalk, and romp through its giant amusement park. Darrow submitted the game to Parker Brothers but its experts figured they knew more than this man of the people and rejected his invention because it took too long to play. Undaunted, the inventor started up his own business and promptly marketed his game with great success. Soon, a chastened Parker Brothers came to him, hat in hand, and licensed the game from him–and the best selling board game in history was launched. A grateful corporation rewarded this real life Horatio Alger so generously that “he would soon be able to retire for life at the age of 46 and become a millionaire gentleman farmer, world traveler–especially to ancient cities–motion picture photographer, and collector of exotic orchid species.”
Having refreshed my memory, I went on a little testily. “Whatever gives you that idea? Somebody Darrow invented Monopoly and he worked with Parker Brothers”. “Of course,” added the host approvingly. “During the Great Depression.” “He stole it,” Mrs. Stevenson persisted. “I had a good friend in college who was one of the few women of her day to become an aeronautical engineer. She swore to me that her father and friends had created the exact same Monopoly game now sold by Parker Brothers, Atlantic City street names and all.” The host of the show passed me a piece of paper on which he had written in big block letters “Careful!!!! Libel. Kook.” I nodded to him and moved on cautiously. “Fascinating. Can you remember any more details about your friend’s story?” “Well, I can tell you one thing. My friend was a real sober person. Remember, she majored in engineering, but whenever Parker Brothers had something in the papers about that Darrow person, she would practically throw a fit about Parker Brothers working in cahoots with that con-man.” The host, an inveterate note writer, wrote in bigger block letters: “MORE CONSPIRACY THEORIES. SAY ALLEGED FOR GOD’S SAKES.” “Can you remember anything else about your friend’s alleged invention story, Mrs. Stevenson?” I prompted. “Anything else? Let’s see now. She said it happened in the early thirties, when she was just a little girl, but she could recall very clearly watching her father and his friends working out the details of the game. And even then they called it monopoly, though that was quite a bit before Darrow and Parker Brothers arrived on the scene.” “Do you recollect your friend’s name, by any chance?” I asked, thinking of how I should get her social security number, current address and the number of her drivers license–just in case Stevenson wasn’t a kook after all. “Of course I remember her name. Lord, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Joanna. She was a real whiz kid, that gal.” “Go on,” I pressed her. “Joanna who. . .?” “Oh, well, that’s another matter. She’s been married and remarried several times and I’ve lost track of her so I couldn’t possibly know her last name. But I can tell you she’d be about fifty right now, and she graduated from NYU where they had a special wartime program to train women as aeronautical engineers, what with all the men being away in the army. Later, she worked at a defense plant by the name of Vertol Helicopters. But I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you about her.” The host had had enough. He broke in. “This makes no sense to me, Mrs. Stevenson. Just for starters, if the game was stolen from Joanna’s friends and family, why didn’t they complain to Parker Brothers, a very reputable company, or haul Darrow to court so they could get back the millions you claim did not belong to Mr. Darrow.” This stopped her for only a moment. “Right you are. I remember asking Joanna the exact same question. She said part of the reason was a religion thing. They were Quakers and you know the way Quakers are; they’re very peaceful and they don’t like to quarrel in court.” “Not very likely,” I thought while the host shook his head in disbelief. She pretty well lost me at this point. I thought how fortunate it was–in a morbid sort of way– that Darrow himself was no longer among the living and thus not in condition to whip over to his attorney to hit Mrs. Stevenson, myself and an Oregon TV station with a hefty libel suit. Still, I jotted down the information about Joanna No-name. You never know.
Then I schlepped on to Seattle, the next stop on my publicity tour.
Copyright by Ralph Anspach, 1998