It was on this day in 1935 that a woman named Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie Phillips agreed to sell Parker Brothers the patent for her version of the board game Monopoly.
Lizzie Magie had invented the game back in 1903, although she called it The Landlord's Game, and in 1904 she was issued a patent. It was a game intended to teach a strong moral lesson. Magie was a young Quaker woman and a follower of Henry George, a political economist. George was the author of Progress and Poverty (1879), which was a huge best-seller, selling more than 3 million copies, a big number for its day. He argued that poverty was a direct result of monopolies placed on land and resources, and that it was immoral for a few people to own natural resources — especially land — and then rent them out. Not only was it unethical, he said, but it also would hurt the American economy. His solution was called the "single tax" theory — he thought that everyone should have an equal share in the land where they lived or worked, and pay a single, equal tax on it.
So Lizzie Magie invented a board game that showed how the evils of the current economic system — how landlords could become wealthy by buying a piece of land and then charging rent. The board looked very similar to the modern Monopoly board, with railroads in the corners, properties along the sides, some stops to pay property tax or improvement taxes, public utilities, and a jail square. She explained that the point of The Landlord's Game was "not only to afford amusement to the players, but to illustrate to them how under the present or prevailing system of land tenure, the landlord has an advantage over other enterprises and how the single tax would discourage land speculation."
The Landlord's Game became extremely popular in the homes of Quakers and other similar-minded people, and it was promoted by a professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania named Scott Nearing — he was eventually fired for his radical politics and became an icon of the back-to-the-land movement as the co-author, with his wife, Helen, of Living the Good Life (1954). But for years he used The Landlord's Game to teach students about the inequality of capitalism, and it was that group of students that nicknamed the game Monopoly. Many of them, in turn, took it to their own classrooms, redrawing the boards from memory.
And so the game continued to spread, with rules and boards changing as people re-drew it, often modeled after the town of wherever it was being played. A woman named Ruth Hoskins took it to Atlantic City to use in the Quaker Friends School there, and it took on Atlantic City names and was picked up by an out-of-work electrician named Charles Darrow. Darrow was one of many people who tried to publish their own version of the game, but it was his that Parker Brothers chose in 1935, when they realized that the game was so popular anyway, they might as well be making money on it. By this time, it had lost almost all of its original social message. Charles Darrow claimed he had made the game up out of his head, inspired by a book he had read about a school where they taught business with fake money.
The only problem for Parker Brothers was that Lizzie Magie, now Lizzie Magie Phillips, still owned the patent to The Landlord's Game,which was so similar to the version they bought from Charles Darrow that they needed to buy up her patent as well. She refused to let them make changes to her original game, because she didn't want Henry George's ideas to disappear. But she didn't think to demand that they wouldn't publish the new version of Monopoly they had purchased from Charles Darrow. So they told her that they would keep publishing a version of her game and bought her out for $500 on this day in 1935. From then on, they promoted the Atlantic City version of Monopoly and published the story of a brilliant unemployed electrician who came up with the idea out of the blue. It wasn't until the 1980s, during a court case about a board game called Anti-Monopoly, designed by a college professor, that the true history of Monopoly's origins came out.
In 1936 alone, the year after Parker Brothers secured the patent, 1,810,000 copies of Monopoly were sold. Today it is the most-played commercial board game in the world.