The Landlord’s Game

landlords game 1904

The Landlord’s Game is a board game patented in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie. It is a realty and taxation game, which is considered to be a direct inspiration for the board game ‘Monopoly.’

Though many similar home-made games were played at the beginning of the 20th century, it is the first of its kind to have an attested patent. Magie designed the game to be a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.’

She based the game on the economic principles of Georgism, a system proposed by Henry George, with the object of demonstrating how rents enrich property owners and impoverish tenants. She knew that some people could find it hard to understand why this happened and what might be done about it, and she thought that if Georgist ideas were put into the concrete form of a game, they might be easier to demonstrate. Magie also hoped that when played by children the game would provoke their natural suspicion of unfairness, and that they might carry this awareness into adulthood.

She patented a new version of the game in 1924, which included named streets, some named after locations in Chicago. Apart from commercial distribution in 1932, it spread by word of mouth and was played in slightly variant homemade versions over the years by Quakers, Georgists, university students, and others who became aware of it. Magie held the patent until 1935, when she sold it to Parker Brothers for $500. The company had recently started distributing Charles Darrow’s ‘Monopoly,’ and was buying up the patents of various commercial forms of the game in order to claim undisputed rights to selling it.

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