Jump to Navigation

Cool Things - Monopoly Game

Monopoly board owned by Lois Hunter of Parsons, Kansas

This Monopoly board was owned by Lois Hunter of Parsons, Kansas. Signs of wear and use must mean the game was a favorite of Lois's family throughout its 60 years of use.

There's much more to Monopoly than you thought. Railroads, community chest, free parking--all these parts of Monopoly contain a message. For the game's original inventor, the message was about economics and morals.

The Landlord's Game

Perhaps the biggest monopoly secret is that it was derived from The Landlord's Game. Invented by Lizzie J. Maggie in 1904, The Landlord's Game had all the basic features of Monopoly and therefore can be considered the first Monopoly game. It differed in some aspects from the board with which we are now familiar. For example in the Landlord's Game "Mother Earth" and "Central Park Free" are translated into "Go" and "Free Parking" in Monopoly.

Lizzie Maggie was a follower of Henry George. This economist believed many of society's social and financial problems were caused by people who had complete control over land or an industry (monopolists). His solution was the Single Tax. This meant that the only tax that people would pay would be on the value of the land, regardless of what might be built on it. George believed that land should belong to everyone and all income from the land should go to the community.

Maggie spread George's message by designing the Landlord's Game to demonstrate the virtues of the single tax and the evils of monopolies. The rules for her 1906 version state that the game, "is based on present prevailing business methods. This the players can prove for themselves; and they can also prove what must be the logical outcome of such a system, i.e., that the land monopolist has absolute control of the situation." She goes on to state that, "the remedy is the Single Tax." Maggie wrote game rules that would "prove how the application of the Single Tax would benefit everybody, by equalizing opportunities and raising wages."

The Landlord's Game, designed by Lizzie Maggie. Image courtesy of Thomas Forsyth

Rules of the Game

The rules of the Landlord's Game clearly send a Georgist message, but other elements of the game (such as the prominence of railroad companies) subtly reflect both the reality of life and the greatest concerns of Georgists. Even the name "Landlord's Game" is a play on words, suggesting that landlords are devious. Other aspects of the game, such as the Public Park being free and players receiving money each time they pass Mother Earth, advocate the belief that the land is common property. The rules also take a stab at corrupt officials. For example: "Throwing a two: 'Caught robbing the public--take $200 from the board. The players will now call you Senator.'"

Kansans were very familiar with Henry George's ideas. Kansas played a significant role in the development of Populism, of which Georgism was a branch. There were several Single Tax Clubs in Kansas, and at an 1890 convention in Topeka, one of the six organizations that became the Populist Party was the Single Tax Club. Henry Ware Allen, from Wichita, wrote many articles on Henry George's ideas and even met the economist in Kansas City on behalf of the Single Tax Club.

Variations on the landlord's game developed as people replaced the board spaces with names from their own cities and states, but still used Maggie's rules. Charles Darrow took one such variation and altered it somewhat, titled it Monopoly, changed the rules to eliminate Maggie's message, and sold it to the Parker Brothers Company as his own invention.

Close-up of wooden Monopoly game pieces

Darrow's changes to the game disguised Maggie's Georgist message. Although the rules were altered and the spaces were changed, some elements of the anti-monopoly message can still be found. The community chest is mostly beneficial, railroads remain a prominent feature, class differences in the properties are still evident, and (most significantly) the game has only two outcomes for its players: poverty or wealth. The Monopoly game also saw some changes through the years. Metal was scarce during World War II. As a result, Monopoly games like the one in the museum's collection were made with wooden game pieces instead of metal ones.

Although there are no corporate records on how many, if any, Landlord's Games may have been sold in Kansas, the game of Monopoly was a nationwide success. Kansans were generally opposed to monopolies, particularly those on railroads so (although it's difficult to know) some of Maggie's message may have gotten through.

Listen to the Monopoly podcast Play Audio Tour

Entry: Cool Things - Monopoly Game

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2008

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.