The Monopolization of Monopoly
The $500 Buyout

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

Once that was done, Parker Brothers began negotiations to buy up the games that superseded Darrow's copy of Charles Todd's Monopoly set.

Naturally, Lizzie J. Magie's game was first. That absolutely had to be bought. Dan Layman's lawyers explained to him that nobody could claim a patent on a game called Monopoly since it was a direct development from The Landlord's Game. Layman's onetime college frat brothers, Fred and Louis Thun, got the same advice from a lawyer friend of theirs when they considered trying to patent Monopoly as they had developed it. What other conceivable advice could be given Parker Brothers management by their own lawyers?

So, Parker bought out Lizzie Magies's game. Bought it from her for $500 flat - no royalties - and a promise to manufacture some sets under its original title, The Landlord's Game. Forty years later Parker Brothers president Barton told the story of it in his sworn deposition taken as part of the Anti-Monopoly lawsuit proceedings.

"We knew that Charles Darrow had based his game Monopoly on both The Landlord's Game and possibly something of this kind [referring to Dan Layman's Finance]."

So, Barton met with Lizzie Magie, he testified, and asked her if she would accept changes in her game. According to Barton's recollection, she replied like this: "No. This is to teach the Henry George theory of single taxation, and I will not have my game changed in any way whatsoever." For John Droeger of San Francisco, the lawyer taking his deposition, Barton explained why in his opinion Lizzie Magie answered that way: "She was a rabid Henry George single tax advocate, a real evangelist; and these people never change."

Barton's frame of reference for that evaluation? The classic one of inherited wealth that is contemptuous of everything but unmitigated capitalism. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, the scion of a wealthy family in Baltimore; graduated from Harvard; became a trademark lawyer in a firm started by his grandfather; and won the top job at Parker Brothers not by working his way up, but rather, as he himself has admitted in interviews for magazine publication by "marrying the boss's daughter" (Sally Parker).

The boss was George S. Parker, who founded Parker Brothers in 1883. As soon as Barton married Parker's daughter, in 1932, he was named assistant treasurer of the company. Two years later Parker let him take over the presidency to manage the firm while Parker stood by as chairman of the board.

Since Lizzie Magie would not agree to changes already made and on the market, Barton promised her production of her own Landlord's Game in return for singing over all rights to it. She made no demand that Parker Brothers stop manufacturing the revised game, Monopoly. She made no demands that any specified steps be taken to popularize her Landlord's Game. She was a little old grayhaired Quaker woman. She was delighted that Parker Brothers - king of the games business, popularizer of Ping-Pong, Mah-Jongg, and jigsaw puzzles - was going to manufacture and sell her effort to teach single tax theory in a fun way. She had no idea the king was almost bankrupt and intended to save himself by reaping a fortune from one of the peasant's inventions.

A reporter for the leading afternoon daily newspaper in the nation's capital, The Washington Star, wrote about Lizzie Magie's game in an unbylined story published Jan. 28, 1936. By that time she was Mrs. Elizabeth Magie Phillips of nearby Clarendon, Va. As part of the story interview, the reporter asked Mrs. Phillips how she felt about getting only $500 for her patent and no royalties ever. She replied that it was all right with her if she never made a dime so long as the Henry George single tax idea was spread to the people of the country.

The story in the Star was headlined "Designed to Teach - Game of Monopoly Was First Known as Landlord's Game." It would be the one and only time in four decades of newspaper and magazine articles about Monopoly that the game's true origin would be publicized. From then on, Parker Brothers made certain, through a rigidly controlled publicity program, that every story about Monopoly to appear in print would state Charles Darrow invented it. Forty years had to pass before another journalist would take up where the long forgotten Washington Star reporter left off and put the equally forgotten Lizzie Magie's name in print again.