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The Monopolists

Obsession, Fury and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game

By Mary Pilon
15-minute read
Audio available
The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon

The Monopolists (2015) unveils the true yet checkered history of Parker Brothers's most successful board game, Monopoly. It tells the tale of the game’s origins in progressive, anti-capitalist thinking to its evolution under the control of Parker Brothers, a company that went to extraordinary lengths to rewrite Monopoly’s history and crush any competition in the process.

  • Fans of the board game Monopoly
  • Lawyers or specialists in trademark or property rights laws
  • Historians or popular culture fanatics

Mary Pilon is a reporter for The New York Times, and has also written for The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine and USA Today.

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The Monopolists

Obsession, Fury and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game

By Mary Pilon
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
Synopsis

The Monopolists (2015) unveils the true yet checkered history of Parker Brothers's most successful board game, Monopoly. It tells the tale of the game’s origins in progressive, anti-capitalist thinking to its evolution under the control of Parker Brothers, a company that went to extraordinary lengths to rewrite Monopoly’s history and crush any competition in the process.

Key idea 1 of 9

Parker Brothers created the myth of Monopoly’s origins to try to keep competitors at bay.

The board game Monopoly, first developed in the early twentieth century, is not only a wildly popular game but also a cultural icon. So much so that it even has a mythical origin story, too.

A man named Charles Darrow allegedly invented Monopoly during the Great Depression. Living in poverty, Darrow tried to sell his game idea to companies such as Parker Brothers, but had no luck.

Frustrated by his failures, Darrow instead decided to produce the game himself. As the board game's popularity grew by word of mouth, game companies started to pay attention. Parker Brothers came around and in the end, bought Darrow’s game. He became wealthy, a true rags-to-riches story.

But is this really how Monopoly came to be?

It's not. Darrow never invented the game Monopoly. Friends taught him how to play it; he then redesigned it. So why did Parker Brothers push this made-up history instead of the truth?

At the time, Parker Brothers was an ailing game company. On the brink of collapse, the company’s main troubles stemmed from its inability to keep competitors from stealing its games.

Parker Brothers had trademarked the highly successful game Ping Pong, for example. As Ping Pong’s popularity grew, however, competitors got around trademark issues simply by producing similar versions that were still different enough to be legally defendable.

The popular game Monopoly offered Parker Brothers a new start. If the company could write its own history of how the game was created, it could ensure that it maintained complete control of the concept. Darrow, the alleged inventor, was happy to go along; and Parker Brothers sealed the deal.

But what is behind the lies? How did Monopoly really come into being?

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