An inventor, game designer, feminist, and Georgist. The inventor of The Landlord's Game, the precursor to Monopoly.
Elizabeth J. Magie was born in Macomb, Illinois, to an abolitionist family. In her 20s, she moved to the Washington, DC area, where she worked as a typist and a stenographer at the Dead Letter Office. She wrote short stories and poetry, performed on stage, and did comedic routines. In 1893, at 26, she patented her first invention for typewriting machines to make the paper move through the rollers more easily.
Magie was an active feminist, and as a single woman, her focus was the unavoidable dependency on men. She, as a stenographer, earned only $10 a week, which was not enough for her to support herself without a man. To bring attention to the matter, she bought an advertisement to auction herself as an American woman slave who needs a husband to own her. In this wording, Magie pointed out the status of women and black people in the country, indicating that the only free people are white men.
Another cause close to her heart was Georgism. Based on the anti-monopolist theories of politician and economist Henry George, Georgism is a single tax movement that advocated for the government to create a universal land tax based on the size, location, and usefulness of the land instead of taxing income. It also stated that services such as telegraphs, railroads, and utilities should be owned by the public rather than private companies. So the tax burden will be on the wealthy landlords instead of the laborers. These beliefs inspired her to create a board game that trains economic theories, and she invented the Landlord’s Game.
In 1904, 38 years old Magie got a patent for The Landlord’s Game. In its first version, the game could be played in two ways – a monopolist set up (named Monopoly) in which the goal was to own industries, create monopolies, and crush the opponents; and an anti-monopolist set up (named Prosperity) in which the goal was to build products and gain wealth through interaction and collaboration with the opponents. The game was innovative in various ways. It was the first to be played on a circular board when all game boards were linear. It was the first to encourage social and competitive interaction among the players, and as a tool of education, it taught the principles of economics to its players.
The Landlord’s Game had great successes among Magie’s friends, so she tried to sell it to the game manufacturing company the Parker Brother, which turned her down twice for being “too political.” In 1906, she moved to Chicago, where she co-founded The Economic Game Co to manufacture and distribute the game by herself. The patent on the game had expired in 1921, and other versions became popular in the Northeast and Mid-West, especially among college students at Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as among Quakers and middle-class families.
In 1933, three decades after Magie patented The Landlord’s Game, Parker Brothers released Monopoly, supposedly invented by a man named Charles Darrow. Based solely on the monopolist-capitalist aspects of Magie’s original game, this version became a household must, selling 20,000 sets a week in its first year, earning Darrow and Parker Brothers millions of dollars. In 1936, at the age of 70, Magie interviewed for The Washington Post and The Evening Star, criticized Darrow and its appropriation of her idea, saying that the game cost her more than she made from it, merely 500$.
Monopoly grew into the world’s most popular board game over the years, while Magie died without receiving any credit for her creation at 82.
In 1973, Ralph Anspach, an economics professor, was sued by The Parker Brothers after developing the Anti-Monopol game to shed light on monopolies’ dangers. In his research for the case, he discovered Magie’s story and the true origin of the game. 25 years after she passed away, she finally received her deserved recognition.
Lizzie Magie - Inventor of Monopoly - Macomb, IL
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie was born in Macomb, IL in 1866 and was a remarkable women inventor and feminist trailblazer who created the game that would come to be known as "Monopoly."
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- She married at the age of 44. She did not have children.
- In 1903, when she applied for patenting the game, only 1% of all patent applicants were women.
- She sold a version of the game to a Scottish manufacturing company in 1912, which introduced it to the UK.
- She developed three more board games - Bargain Day, King's Men, and another version of The Landlord's Game.
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Lizzie Magie - Inventor of Monopoly - Macomb, ILElizabeth "Lizzie" Magie was born in Macomb, IL in 1866 and was a remarkable women inventor and feminist trailblazer who created the game that would come to be known as "Monopoly."
This post is also available in: Español