The Monopolization of Monopoly
Parker Brothers

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

In the earliest stages of their dealings, Parker Brothers was merely Darrow's dupe. He obtained a patent on the game by fraudulently claiming to be its inventor. Then he sold the patent to Parker Brothers with assurances that the game was his very own "brain child," a phrase from a letter he wrote to Parker Brothers president Robert B. M. Barton on March 21, 1935. It is now part of the record in the Anti-Monopoly lawsuit.

Even if Parker Brothers was merely the innocent victim of a fraud as of March 1935, the firm could not use that excuse beyond another month. Because a letter from Barton to Darrow, dated April 15, 1935, states that a Parker Brothers vice president named only as "Hunneman" had "just written" to Barton "as follows:

"We have just had quite a long talk with the buyer of Baker & Taylor. As you know, Baker & Taylor are very large book jobbers and do some publishing themselves.

"He [the buyer] told us frankly and I think without prejudice that the original trading game [which became Monopoly] came out in 1902. [Wrong. It came out in 1904. - B.H.W.] He also told us that lawyers had investigated the situation and found that Darrow had appropriated the discarded name MONOPOLY. Also he says he has been selling ten times as much Finance as MONOPOLY and that he has sold approximately two or three thousand of MONOPOLY this past year."

So, there it was. No question about it. Darrow was not the inventor of Monopoly. Management of Parker Brothers knew that as of April 15, 1935. But, Parker Brothers had lost heaps of money in the early Thirties and was almost bankrupt, about to go down as another victim of the Great Depression. And Monopoly was an overnight sensation. In the very first year Parker Brothers manufactured it, the firm sold nearly a million game sets. By April 1935, when management discovered the truth about the game's origin, sales were already at somewhere around the 200,000 level.

How many business firms on the fringe of bankruptcy would give up their salvation, a new product that becomes an instant nationwide bestseller and mass profit-maker?

So, instead of dropping any claim to Monopoly, Parker Brothers began a campaign to make it their exclusive product.

First, Barton wrote to Darrow: "In view of what he [the Baker & Taylor buyer] has to say, it is very important that the situation with reference to MONOPOLY and Finance be made entirely clear. Are you willing to make affidavit to the history of the game which you were kind enough to send on to us [in the March 21 letter]? If so, I believe that I should like to prepare one and send it on to you to execute. We have been doing well with MONOPOLY and we want to do everything that we can to protect its reputation and position in trade."

Since Darrow's history stated that Monopoly was his "brain child" and Barton then learned it was not, this letter meant Barton was asking Darrow to repeat his lie in an affidavit that Parker Brothers could use to support a claim to its patent on Monopoly.