The Monopolization of Monopoly
The Landlord's Game

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

It was not entirely that way, though they played it partly for amusement, for the original game players: Quakers, single taxers and college people such as Professor Scott Nearing, who acquired a copy of The Landlord's Game around 1910 and took it with him to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Finance. Socialist economist Nearing (author of such books as Poverty and Riches, The American Empire, Democracy is Not Enough) was already a radical destined to be fired from his teaching job for supporting early child labor laws. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who amassed his wealth partly through child labor in his factories, was on the University of Pennsylvania board of trustees and he demanded, as a price for his funding the school, that Nearing be thrown out. Nearing then went on to become the grand old man of the ecology movement.

Sixty-five years after Nearing first played Lizzie Magie's game, he explained in a letter to Ralph Anspach: "The game was used to prove the anti-social nature of monopoly."

Along with students at Wharton, Nearing played The Landlord's Game with his brother, Guy Nearing, who lived in the Henry George single tax community of Arden, Delaware. As the students and single taxers played the game, they began a process - continued right up to 1976 - of altering the rules. The main change was that instead of merely paying rent when landing on a property block, the players could hold an auction to buy it.

They also made their own game boards so that they could replace the properties designated by Lizzie Maggie with properties in their own cities and states; this made playing more realistic.

As they drew or painted their own boards, usually on linen or oil cloth, they change the title "Landlord's Game" to "Auction Monopoly" and then just "Monopoly".

Gradually, through the students and Quakers and single taxers, and their friends and relatives, the game of Monopoly spread to parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana and even as far away from its East Coast origin as Austin, Texas, where Ralph Anspach discovered early game boards 50 years later.

Among the earliest players, circa 1915, was Rexford E. Tugwell, then an economics student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Later Rex Tugwell was a professor there and at Columbia Univeristy; then he became one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's brain trusters and governor of Puerto Rico. One of Tugwell's students who played Monopoly while it was being developed as a folk game, Priscilla Robertson, wrote about it to Anspach in 1975 from her present home in Kentucky:

"In those days those who wanted copies of the board for Monopoly took a peice of linen cloth and copied it in crayon. It was considered a point of honor not to sell it to a commercial manufacturer, since it had been worked out by a group of single taxers who were anxious to defeat the capitalist system."

But that ain't the way Charles B. Darrow viewed it when he started playing the game in 1933, after it was already developed to its basic, present form by hundreds of people who preceded him.