Elizabeth Magie – Inventor of Monopoly™

Elizabeth Magie was born in Macomb, in 1866, the year after the Civil War ended and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Her father, James Magie, was a newspaper publisher and an abolitionist who accompanied Lincoln as he traveled around Illinois in the late 1850s debating politics with Stephen Douglas.

The seeds of the Monopoly game were planted when James Magie shared with his daughter a copy of Henry George’s best-selling book, “Progress and Poverty,” written in 1879. As an anti-monopolist, James Magie drew from the theories of George, a charismatic politician and economist who believed that individuals should own 100 percent of what they made or created, but that everything found in nature, particularly land, should belong to everyone. In the early 1880s, Lizzie Magie, has her friend’s called her, worked as a stenographer. She spent her time drawing and redrawing, thinking and rethinking the game that she wanted to be based on the theories of Henry George.

Magie’s game featured a path that allowed players to circle the board, in contrast to the linear-path design used by many games at the time. The plat of the board game is surprisingly similar to that of Macomb’s Downtown Square. In one corner were the Poor House and the Public Park, and across the board was the Jail; Macomb’s Jail, incidentally was, at that time, in one of corners of the Square. Also included on the board were three words that have endured for more than a century after Lizzie scrawled them there: “Go to Jail.” She called her creation, The Landlord’s Game and in 1903 filed a legal claim for the game. Magie’s Landlord’s Game in 1903, more than three decades before Parker Brothers began manufacturing Monopoly.

It was a version of this game, years later, that Charles Darrow was taught by a friend, played and eventually sold to Parker Brothers under the name of Monopoly. The version of that game had the core of Magie’s game, but also modifications added by the Quakers to make the game easier to play. In addition to properties named after Atlantic City streets, fixed prices were added to the board. In its efforts to seize total control of Monopoly and other related games, the company struck a deal with Magie to purchase her Landlord’s Game patent and two more of her game ideas not long after it made its deal with Darrow.

While Darrow made millions and struck an agreement that ensured he would receive royalties, Magie’s income for her creation was reported to be a mere $500. But Parker Brothers, Darrow, nor Lizzie Magie, could have known that Monopoly wouldn’t be a mere hit, but a perennial best seller for generations.

– expurgated from a Feb. 13, 2015 New York Times article by Mary Pilon.