tv Book Discussion on The Monopolists CSPAN April 18, 2015 9:30pm-10:04pm EDT
>> now on book tv an event from the museum of american finance in new york city on the origins of the board game monopoly. mary pilon author of "the monopolists: obsession fury, and the scandal behind the world's favorite board game" refutes the commonly held history that an unemployed salesman sold the idea to the toy company in 1935. >> what the plan is, we'll talk a little bit about the history of the game and open it up to questions and answers. answers. as we are not just yammering and you can get some insight this is the cover of the book. monopoly as we know it today, most people are familiar with the hotels
greenhouses, mr. monopoly. most people say parker brothers which is now owned by hasbro. and for years the story was this gentleman at the height of the great depression and one of america's darkest hours, he goes hours, he goes into his basement and innovates and makes this game and puts atlantic city properties on it as an almost a vacations during better times. here is the original patent from 1935. 1935. you can see it looks a lot like monopoly today, the tokens, the board, the property. this version has been on the website for years. some people believe there was the inspiration for some of the early mr. monopoly characters. the only problem is that stories are true. the actual game originated with a woman this woman elizabeth mcgee.
prior to inventing prior to inventing her game she had a patent for a typewriter gadget. she was an outspoken feminist. feminist. she had a lot of views on this. her father was a gentleman named james mcgee who was not just an influential newspaper owner and had traveled with abraham lincoln during the lincoln douglas debate and was around for the founding of the republican party and was very impactful. she also impactful. she also appeared on stage roadshow stories, wrote the book of poetry which you can see the plate play for that, and she was very impacted by this man henry george., henry george. i'm sure a lot of people know about henry george, but a lot of people don't. the very short version, i'm not a henry george scholar he was a proponent of single tax. had this idea that if you tax land and only land the working class would have a better shot and equality
and write this book called the progress of poverty, a massive bestseller. you can read all sorts of newspaper accounts of people packing owls to hear him speak. he was very charismatic. lizzy mcgee is one of the people who reads this book has moved by him and his teachings. here here is a patent for the 1904 landlord game. she gets it in 1904. the idea of somebody taking to a board game as a teaching tool may seem strange to us today about in her time it made a lot of sense. more games are becoming cheaper to manufacture. politicians are starting to talk about the fight for leisure time. more and more people as things like child labor laws approved, indoor fighting, a lot more things that make boardgames more conducive to the average american has opposed upper-class parlor games. you can see the landlord game elements that very much carryover to monopoly today.
go to jail, a public park space. space. obviously cars were not as big of a deal as they are now. she was very concerned with land usage. so she makes her game and it spreads like wildfire especially among left-wing intellectuals in the northeast. on the far left for the early monopoly players was rex taub well who later joined the cabinet of fdr. and then in the center you have artist angel who was a national chairman of the aclu. he had been playing the game in new york. his son roger angell a writer for the new yorker. scott nearing plays the game a professor at wharton involved in a very important academic freedom case. case. some consider him to be the father of the green movement far ahead of his time on that one. arden delaware is a single tax colony when again flourished.
arden delaware was frequented by scott nearing a lot of other people including upton sinclair. upton sinclair's house was called the jungle which is a ridiculous teefive's book was called the jungle. jungle. there was this really salacious sex scandal that took place there. maybe that is another presentation. it was played at wharton, harvard everywhere. she renews her patent. it continues to spread. she had been spending time in chicago. and one of the groups that really embraces monopoly of the quakers of atlantic city. this is a picture of a quaker monopoly night. they had wooden boards. and they would add properties for whatever city they were in. aurora philadelphia versions boston versions. this was an atlantic city version. here again we have atlantic city quaker board.
this is the charles todd board. you look at this the similarities between it and the monopoly board become closer and closer. charles todd lives in philadelphia and learned the game from a friend in a friend atlantic city and runs into friends on the street. he says, why don't you come over and will have monopoly night which was very en vogue at the time. so they have this monopoly night. todd teaches darrow the game afterwards he asks can you type of the rules for me. todd think this is a little strange because it would be like someone coming to your house and you play checkers and chess and asked for a copy of the rules. he does it anyway. his secretary types of the rules and gives them to darrow. let's cut to parker brothers in the 30s. part of brothers was a firm completely in crisis. like a lot of companies no one was buying anything the
balance she was a disaster. there is george parker sitting down. he founded the firm and it was not looking good. his son-in-law 2nd the left had just taken over a a parker brothers and was a lawyer by training very little game experience. he he needs a solution command he needs a fast. these are selling the monopoly game and wanamaker's in philadelphia. it's still there today. if you are a fan of manic in the movie that's when i was shot. so barton sees this sally barton pointed out to him. they strike up a deal in the flatiron building with a parker showroom was at the time. time. this is a picture of him. a lot older and a terrible quality photo but they strike a deal to buy games. monopoly becomes a monster bestseller. parker brothers can't make these things fast enough.
in the story of barrow inventing it during the great depression becomes a huge part of the publicity campaign. they actually use darrow and his image to make a game that you see on the bottom which did not sell well. there never had been a boy game creation story like the darrow story. he's giving interviews, a lot of press. press. one of the things they need to do is make tokens. when the quakers were playing the game they used buttons, earrings, miscellaneous objects. parker brothers cause under house manufacturing. you might know them for the crackerjack prizes. so a lot of the tokens some of them have loops because they were originally made his charms. even beyond the crackerjack prize situation, situation if you were a company like the flatiron company you might give customers a little token. so they use some of those.
it is it is not long before parker and barton realize they have a problem there are a lot of other monopoly games out there. so barton writes to charles darrow and says, hey, where did this can come from? can you give us a detailed history? we might use it for publicity purposes. this letter exchanges in the book, no let you decide what you want but the short version is that he waffles and does not address the genesis of the game will allow that have been around for 30 plus years before he sold it. one of those games is a a finance game. you can see it looks a lot like monopoly. a fraternity guy had sold it on his own. parker brothers acquires it and start to buy up other similar games on the market. milton bradley had a game called easy money. in texas there is a game
called inflation. they all they all kind of men -- mimic monopoly. the by then but at the 1930s the story, the train is left the station. he is everywhere hailed as the inventor. lizzy mcgee and lizzie mcgee and her landlord gave a pretty much forgotten. she's not happy about this. she gives an interview from the washington evening star. you can see you can see her now, an elderly woman living in washington holding up her board of the monopoly board in the says that she had gotten married by then, understood she receives $500 for her patent. she gets no royalties. if one counts lawyers, printers, and patent office fees the game has cost her more that she made from it. that is the deal that she got from parker brothers. why did the patent office grant grant darrow the 1935
patent when mcgee had to similar before? wing may never know. usually you have a thing called the patent wrapper, the document around it that explains to you how and where and why. that has been missing for at least 40 years, and i certainly couldn't find it. we don't exactly no what happened. they die. this is his obituary. lizzie mcgee's is buried. i had a hard time finding it there is no mention of monopoly here or other grave and she didn't have any children. how do we know any of this? the sole history was an accident and they came out totally accidentally because of the sky. this is ralph of stock. a picture of him in berkeley in the 70s an economist teaching at san francisco state. he makes a game called anti- monopoly. it is it is not long before he hears -- let me back up.
he makes this he makes this game because is upset about the opec oil cartel. he feels like monopoly's roots are negative. he was to he was to make more philosophically pleasing version. they drop the game. this is a drawing or the sons of done. are done. it's monopoly backwards. very 70s. ralph nader comes up public service lawyer they are the heroes of the game. not long before he hears from parker brothers attorneys you can't make anti- monopoly. that kicks off this ten year long legal battle between ralph and his family and parker brothers. they report they report all these different aspects of trademark patent and copyright law and all that is much more detailed in the book. but as part of his lawsuit like everyone else he thought -- he starts to find out that the roots go back
far far far far far back. he he finds dan layman, now an elderly man living in pasadena. he finds charles todd. he has done the quicker players. i know i know this looks like organic chemistry notes but it is actually trying to find these photos of monopoly players to find out who went to school with who who knew who who was married to him and reverse engineering a monopoly story and trying to find the thread between the 1935 game of the 1904 patent. these these are some of the quakers. a lot of them passed away. they did ultimately testify. so charles todd tells them the story that i just told you. he makes this.that he didn't live in atlantic city. he learned the game for a friend who did. charles todd lived in philadelphia. if you go to atlantic city
and spoke with spell with an en. on the todd board he makes a mistake. he spells it with an eye and because he is not from atlantic city. he doesn't think much of it. one thing people look at and copycat cases is if somebody copies in error. what are what are the same person make the same error twice. he spells it with an iron. he jokes is the most copied spelling error in history. think about his folly. the color groupings are also something of the court is very interested in. in the early monopoly games you can see that it is pretty substantial. they are everywhere. he tries to find a copy of the board that has the word monopoly on it. most people testified. and that i actually got this
for a reader who family recently. we have 11 in our attic. take 40 years. there is a surviving one. kind enough to let me use it so the story is starting to get a lot of press. the anti- monopoly case as well as ralph telling people that this game existed before and there is this atlantic city monopoly term. they are giving they are giving out this thing called the darrow. by now he is pretty much ripped apart this idea. so ralph decides he is going to set up a truth about monopoly lecture next to the atlantic stadium monopoly tournament. the problem is parker brothers catches wind of this and reschedule the events and no one goes to lecture. you would not know that by looking at this photo. but he also heard from a couple college kids a canal that a canal to have been
kicked out of monopoly tournament and were upset and made a game about how to win a monopoly the parker brothers had attacked him over. another tournament taking place in dc shortly thereafter. ralph decides to join forces with these college kids and they go about slipping truth about monopoly pamphlets under the dinner plates of journalists. they feel pretty victorious. that college kid was jaywalker the billionaire founder of priceline .com. his college roommate was jeff lehman who ended up becoming the president of cornell. this is the book and i was able to do some successful ebay and amazon spotting and get a copy. the names are on it. it's funny because if you want up your how to play monopoly book it's pretty great. meanwhile parker brothers with an injunction. usually when you have injunction what you do is throw the merchandise you are arguing over in a warehouse.
in the litigation is over you figure out what to do for the parker brothers is so confident in their victory they decide to stage a burial of routes 40,000 anti- monopoly games. this is a picture where they bury the 40,000 boardgames in minnesota in mankato not far from where they are being manufactured. at this time ralph is pretty deflated. the legal battle went on for years. his legal fees were starting to add up and obviously this is a good for your self-esteem. ralph is victorious in the courts in california the parker brothers decides to appeal to the supreme court. at this time he needs a lawyer. he finds karl pearson who is still practicing here in new york city. he agrees to take the case of contingency. the two of them working at is tiny office up against a who's who of the trademark lobby. but the supreme court refuses to hear the case and
ralph wentz and he wins his right to produce anti- monopoly, when the settlement for his damaged games 20 also wins the right to talk about the origins of the game. previously turned down a massive settlement offer that was a lot of money but he would never been able to talk about the history of the game. victory is not enough. he and his friend bad quality photo, they decide they want to try and dig up the games. they go to minnesota and think they know where they are buried in look and look and look and have no luck. somebody says, you were in the wrong place. well, sure. he will go back. well,. well, you might have a problem. they built condos on top of where the games are buried. and so when people ask me why have you spent all this time writing a book about monopoly i sometimes think someday those games will be discovered.
i feel like we need a document to explain why 40,000 boardgames ended up. minnesota. i keep a close eye and how the iconography is used. in the names, which i am obviously. it's an gossip girl the sopranos. i put this slide up intentionally because i want to find whoever has the statues. i feel i feel like if you are somebody has a monopoly on sleep. i feel like if you are somebody has a monopoly on sleep. but i think it's so ironic. the total opposite of what it was. has been so embraced. so this is my book. you can buy millions of copies of it and tell all your friends. how to get in touch with me if you have any other questions, but i think will take some now.
i sped through think quickly. there are 300 pages. the stakes of questions. don't all target wants. yeah. >> what was your discovery process? start with the back story. >> this whole project came about by accident. i was trying to report something totally different. the "wall street journal" and i always love games and puzzles. i was going to have a throwaway line. it wasn't adding up or making any sense and i was frustrated. i did that reporter track of calling someone who had been involved in litigation. i reached out and said i know this sounds crazy reporter at the journal trying to find out the truth about monopoly. and i had just assumed it was invented during the great depression my some guy. ralph immediately get back to me and said i no all about the history.
he just started talking. i thought thought it was crazy. sometimes as a reporter you have -- everyone thinks they are a deep throat. you take people seriously but you're like, you get a lot of conspiracy theorists. theorists. i started telling me it was almost the opposite. he would tell me something and i would pour it out. those are crazy days. i met with ralph in san francisco. he just had boxes of depositions and documents and photographs and recordings in all this stuff that just makes your reporter soul glo. now they are in my apartment so i started with those in reported often that. a good example lizzie mcgee, he knew she existed, but i wanted to know more about her. i approach the 1st part of the book like hours writing a mini biography in
researching someone who died in obscurity is one of the more challenging things and never done. as as much as digital tools really helped in the storytelling process. archive's paper. archive is paper resources from the public library were incredibly valuable. ancestry.com ancestry .com and how they had digitize genealogy records is incredible. that made so much of this book possible. the quakers, figuring at westridge they lived on, who was near who were lizzie was living that was critical. a lot of this book wasn't digital, but i think among a lot of journalists and readers there is an idea that if it isn't on google it is an information. i kept finding over and over again these gems that were in people's attics or tucked away. just so much of this book wasn't out there digitally.
this didn't even end up in the book but civil war letters were at the new york historical society. you get the gloves in part through them and get a portrait of who this guy really was. things like that made these people into real human beings as opposed to textbook names. it was a totally different process because most of the people in this case i was writing about were deceased. ralph was a huge resource and i have never asked more of somewhere in terms of time walking me through the timeline of how he found things. he had a lot of notes. interviewed his sons for his ex-wife passed away. three people died in the time i was reporting this. i was gathering as much as i could. but but then a lot of things. it was so frustrating.
why can't i why can't i just ask you a question. what did you think about this. a lot of genealogy but it was a hodgepodge of everything. it was actually overwhelming gathering all this and putting it together is very unwieldy. yes. [inaudible question] >> i was wondering things that you found. >> yeah. ralph e-mailed me a couple days ago. his son is a lawyer in new york auditions about the anti- monopoly trial and are growing up in courtrooms -- is a labor lawyer. ralph e-mailed me. i asked i asked him how he was doing. he splits his time between the states and europe. he europe. he said life begins at 89. i thought that was so amazing. we should all be that lucky. but the lizzie mcgee pieces,
he found out by far the expert a lot of this. he in the course of his case -- he was an economist before this. a very sophisticated knowledge. and and he became a paralegal in a lot of ways. but the lizzie mcgee pieces, he knew she existed but the deeper stuff in her biography was something i spent a lot of time on and there were things that he needed to be interested in the quakers in the history of atlantic city and what it was like for them living there something i something i was much more interested in is a narrative storytelling. he was living in berkeley in the 70s he would know how to zoom out and look at what that meant, what it meant to be -- the political climate. a lot of the character developing command a lot of those details were in the deposition but didn't make it to the briefs.
they were interesting but not part of the timeline. it was really flushing out the characters and lizzie mcgee in the history of board game pieces. a lot less reliant on the documents. >> part of this larger history. >> there are many things i find amazing. his conviction. to turn down the settlement offer his background i felt like i needed understand it. the 1st year or two of reporting it many moments when i felt whitey keep doing this. hindsight is 2020. the learning more about his background i before the nazis came in his life as an immigrant in the states was important background. i was talking to his son they were describing her parents.
there was always a cause for rally against the vietnam war. so he seems very happy but he was so secure in this and so confident. the supreme court case ended in 1983. so so he felt like the truth a bit out there for a long time. but it is funny. there is a mention in the news. so yeah. it's a long time to wait. >> any contact with hasbro? >> yes. our approach the reporting of this home teefive's book like it was reporting a journal to be no surprises. you want as many people to participate as you can. i i contacted hasbro several times. there were some turnover. i didn't fall the play-by-play.
but i sent them hundreds of fact checking questions that were answered. for the times excerpt our top -- i contacted them. it's a bummer when someone doesn't want to participate. because they acquired parker brothers in 1991 most of the book takes place before then a lot of the documents, i documents, i was fortunate because i try to give everyone a voice the story. luckily barton had a deposition. we did get to hear from him. the darrell letters things that quite frankly i don't know what documents they would've had. even though they did not participate for researching the history of parker brothers was really important. a important. a lot of that because they were noted company was out there. took some digging, but there was stuff out there. [inaudible question] >> i don't believe so. it is funny. it is funny. and the depositions you can
tell it's a lot of lawyers. that is a common typo. i i went through the book the night before to make sure there are no clarence darrow's. i don't believe there is a relation. who knows. it is a relatively common name. >> and now you've seen a lot the creator of monopoly. what is being done? >> it's a wonderful question. the short answer is i don't know. she didn't have the children. i did my best to contact distant relatives but by then they are so distant that is what it is. ..
haven't seen them it was really successful when it started so there were a lot in circulation. as far as i know they are not really expensive. in general boardgames are this weird collectible because it's kind of similar to what i think, it looks went through a generation ago where people thought they weren't valuable and people were stuffing plumbing leaks with them. it's like if you are a superman fan that makes you choke that. i think they are valuable and they do reflect times that they were made in so i hope more monopoly games get preserve. he has changed at all bit so they're out there. i'll almost wish people value them more because to me it's a game about berkeley in the 70s plus the court case is very valuable. any other questions? a pretty quiet crowd.
[inaudible] >> yes they have a collection of this museum as well as a couple of games right outside the door. the strong museum upstate has some games. the forbes gallery actually had a tremendous monopoly collection were a long time including the board and around there'll board and they auctioned them recently. so there was a lot of, this was a couple of years ago there was a flurry of e-mail activity with people trying -- the history is very contentious. the strong museum acquired one of those boards and we know what they look like because we have photos of them and we know about them but now they are in private hands. in the first ages of researching this book i could go to the forbes gallery and walk around and look around and compare things and get a visual sense of that but even now it would be hard to do which is unfortunate. it's in rochester i believe. they have a ton of good stuff.
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