This blog post is part of an ongoing series in collaboration with Archives Month Philly, a city-wide festival each October celebrating historical records, archives, and rare books. Learn more and check out their events calendar at https://archivesmonthphilly.com.
Guest blogger: Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, archivist at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.
You may not think of Monopoly as a Philadelphia game, but its local connections run deep. Curious to hear the whole story? Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200 - just follow me on a journey into the archives!
Monopoly was long credited to Charles Darrow, an unemployed salesman in Germantown, Philadelphia. But that story has been debunked! The game’s origins have been traced to Quaker Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie (later Phillips), who invented “The Landlord’s Game” and patented it in 1904 to illustrate the economic theories of Philadelphia-born progressive political economist Henry George. She introduced the game to family and friends, and it began circulating throughout Quaker circles. Known generically as Monopoly, different players made their own variant boards and tweaked the rules along the way as the game gained popularity. Thus, a “Quaker folk game,” as the Monument Proposer put it, was born.
Around 1931, a group associated with the Atlantic City Friends School, including Ruth Hoskins, Jesse Raiford, and Cyril and Ruth Harvey, developed some of the adaptations that made their version of Monopoly recognizable to modern players: principally, naming the squares after Atlantic City locales (Boardwalk, Marven Gardens, etc.) and calculating property values in order to substitute straightforward sales instead of the previous drawn-out auction procedures. Their friend, Charles Todd, introduced the game to Charles Darrow. Darrow’s wife and Todd’s wife had attended Westtown, a Quaker boarding school, together.
Charles Darrow loved the game. He began marketing it, passing it off as his own invention, and sold exclusive rights to Parker Brothers in 1935. Monopoly was now standardized, commoditized, and sold for profit. No longer a homemade parlor game, it disappeared from the Quaker households where variations had previously flourished. Even the Atlantic City Quaker group who had introduced the game to Darrow, in their frustration, ceased playing (according to Cyril and Ruth Harvey’s daughter). Thus, as the Monument Proposer put it, “Capitalism Killed Brotherly Love.” It was not until the 1970s, when Parker Brothers tried to sue a professor named Ralph Anspach for selling a game called “Anti-Monopoly,” that Monopoly’s full origin story began to emerge.
The Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College has the papers of one of the daughters of the Atlantic City Quaker group, Dorothy Harvey Leonard (RG 5/245). The collection includes a series on Monopoly, packed with Dorothy’s research and personal stories of the family’s perspective on the events. Because of ongoing sensitivities, at the time of donation the family mandated that access to the Monopoly papers be restricted until 2020. If you’re itching to get your hands on more information before then, we also have a thick file on the Quaker history of Monopoly in our Charles E. Fager Papers (RG5/214).
Archives to explore
For more about Charles Darrow’s neighborhood and to research the property at 40 Westview Ave, check out the Germantown Historical Society Library & Archives
Visit the Henry George Birthplace at 413 South Tenth Street, and learn more about George and his philosophy in the site’s Archive and Historical Research Center
Learn more about the Westtown alumni who developed the version of Monopoly that Darrow appropriated at the Westtown School Archives