The Monopolization of Monopoly
Lizzie J. Magie

by Burton H. Wolfe
©1976 The San Francisco Bay Guardian

On March 23, 1903, Lizzie J. Magie, a young Quaker woman living in Virginia, applied to the US Patent Office for a patent on a board game she had invented as an easy, fun-filled method of teaching the evils of land monopolism. Lizzie Magie was an ardent follower of the single tax movement originated by Philadelphia-born Henry George, who began preaching in San Francisco circa 1869 that the economic rent of land and the unearned increase in land values profited a few individuals rather than the majority of the people, whose very existence produced the land values. He therefore advocated a single tax, on land alone, to meet all the costs of government. He thought this would erode the power of monopolies to suppress competition, and equalize opportunities.

That was all heady, abstractly theoretical stuff for plain working folks to comprehend. So, Lizze Magie decided to teach it through her playtime invention, which she called "The Landlord's Game." She got her patent on January 5, 1904. It's registered as number 740,626 in the US Patent Office. Copies of the original game board are still available.

The board for Lizzie Magie's game bears a striking resemblance to the one now labeled "Monopoly", except that names, drawings, colors and the like are different. It is painted with blocks for rental properties such as "Poverty Place" (land rent $50), "Easy Street" (land rent $100) and "Lord Blueblood's Estate " ("no trespassing - go to jail"). There are banks, a poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the "Soakum Lighting System" ($50 for landing on that) and the "PDQ Railroad" ("fare $100"). And of course there is the well known "Jail" block.

The properties on Lizzie Magie's board were for rent only, not acquisition. Otherwise, the game was played much like the Monopoly of today.

You might not think so if you read and compared only the rules introductions to Lizzie Magie's and Parker Brothers' games. Lizzie Magie's reads like this:

"The object of this game is not only to afford amusement to players, but to illustrate to them how, under the present or prevailing system to land tenure, the landlord has an advantage over other enterprisers, and also how the single tax would discourage speculation."

But the introduction to Parker Brothers' Monopoly reads approximately like this (depending on the year of your set):

"The idea of the game is to buy and rent or sell property so profitably that one becomes the wealthiest player and eventually monopolist... The game is one of shrewd and amusing trading and excitement."