There it is, right at the beginning of the rules pamphlet included with our family’s well-worn Monopoly game. “In 1934, Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, presented a game called Monopoly to the executives of Parker Brothers.” Sounds simple enough. But as Mary Pilon shows in The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, the road to fame for Monopoly was circuitous.
For decades, the “inventor” of Monopoly was purported to be Darrow—a Depression-era unemployed salesman who drew up a board representing Atlantic City properties. “There was only one problem,” Pilon writes, with a journalist’s directness: “The story wasn’t exactly true.”
So what was true? Pilon gets to the bottom of the case with the quixotic tale of an economics professor who invented a game he called Anti-Monopoly and ended up battling Parker Brothers in court for 10 years. It’s a fascinating history, with featured roles for a group of Quakers and a turn-of-the-century feminist named Lizzie Magie, and side trips to a Delaware utopian community, Parker Brothers’ headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts, and, of course, Atlantic City.
As for the “obsession, fury, and scandal” promised in the subtitle, it sounds like just another night of Monopoly in many households. But rest assured, there’s plenty of turmoil in this readable book. Read it, and the next time you’re circling the board with your Scottish terrier you’ll have a deeper understanding of Monopoly’s enduring popularity.