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More Than Monopoly

The story of Lizzie Magie

WQPT PBS Inspires
WQPT PBS Inspires

 

This WQPT PBS documentary celebrates Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie (Macomb, Illinois native) inventor of The Landlord's Game—the little-known precursor to Monopoly.

The WQPT PBS-produced documentary explores Lizzie's invention, and in 2024 Macomb—a small town in the Forgottonia region of Illinois—made history by creating the world's largest augmented reality Monopoly game. The event was a testament to Macomb's innovative spirit and commitment to offering unique experiences.

 

Lizzie's Story in Brief

The beloved origin story of Monopoly, often shared with the game's packaging, tells of Charles Darrow, an unemployed man in 1930s Philadelphia who created the game and sold it to Parker Brothers, saving himself and the company from financial ruin. However, this tale is only partially accurate.

The true roots of Monopoly begin with Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie, a progressive woman whose contributions were largely ignored. Magie was born in Macomb, Illinois on May 9, 1866.

Magie, inspired by Henry George's economic principles and her father's advocacy for a land value tax, created the Landlord's Game in 1904. This game was designed to illustrate the consequences of land monopolies and featured elements like the "Go to Jail" space and properties, which later appeared in Monopoly.

 

Magie's Landlord's Game included two sets of rules: one promoting wealth distribution and the other encouraging monopolies, meant to demonstrate the moral superiority of the former.

 

Several variant board games, based on her concept, were developed from 1906 through the 1930s; they involved both the process of buying land for its development, and the sale of any undeveloped property. Cardboard houses were added, and rents increased as they were added to a property. Magie patented the game again in 1923 (pictured).

The monopolist version of the game caught on, with Darrow claiming a version of it as his own and selling it to Parker Brothers. 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.

 

Despite her innovative contributions, Magie's story was overshadowed by Darrow's. It was when Ralph Anspach, in his legal battle over the creation of Anti-Monopoly, uncovered Magie's patents and the game's true origins. While the myth of Darrow's creation persists, recognizing Magie's role provides a deeper understanding of Monopoly's history and the often-overlooked contributions of women like her.

As Magie emphasized, knowing and speaking about injustices is not enough; action is essential to make significant progress.

 

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