The Landlord’s Game was inspired by economist Henry George, who advocated the imposition of a single tax on the unimproved value of land. A person should keep the profits he or she generated on that land, George believed, but land itself, and its natural resources, should be common property.
Lizzie Magie originally designed two sets of rules for her game:
A first set, monopolist, could be applied until the moment rent became excessive; players could then vote to switch to Georgist rules. She hoped this change would show the players the benefits of the ethical distribution of wealth accumulated in the earlier portion of the game.
Magie intended to use the game to spread George’s philosophy. She believed children as young as 9 could play the Landlord’s Game. “They learn that the quickest way to accumulate wealth and gain power is to get all the land they can in the best localities and hold on to it. Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system, and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.”
From a left-wing primer ...
MOTHER EARTH BELONGS TO EVERYONE
Each time a player went around the board, passing the Mother Earth space, he or she received $100 dollars for having “performed so much labor upon Mother Earth.”
This reflected the Georgist view that people should keep the proceeds of their own labor.
Players who stopped
on a “No Trespassing” square were sent to jail unless they made a payment to the Public Treasury or threw a double with the dice.
Players could generate wealth while progressing around the board. “No Trespassing” labels represented the evil of property held
out of use.
Four squares were placed in the center. Public Treasury contained revenue generated by taxes.
Light and water were considered public necessities, but the first player to stop there had the privilege of taxing the other players.
The main activity consisted of players borrowing money, either from the bank or from each other, to purchase property. Mortgage notes were placed on each lot. Concepts such as “Luxuries of life,” “Legacy” or rail transportation (R.R.) were also represented. The object of the game was to become the wealthiest player, demonstrating how difficult life could be for people who ran out of properties and money.
When players landed on an “Absolute Necessity,” such as bread, coal or shelter, they had to pay $5 into the Public Treasury. This represented indirect taxation.
Players with nothing still would have room in the Poor House.
... To a capitalist success
Monopoly, inspired by the Landlord’s Game and patented and commercialized by Parker Brothers, was a huge success in the early 1930s. Its “inventor,” Charles Darrow, made millions with the copyright. In a 1935 letter to Parker Brothers, he writes about the origins of the idea:
“Being unemployed at the time, and badly needing anything to occupy my time, I made by hand a very crude game for the sole purpose of amusing myself.”
Darrow’s fame would grow as quickly as Magie’s name would fade out. But in the 1970s, Parker Brothers filed a lawsuit against the creators of a game called Anti-Monopoly, and during the trial, the real roots of the game were revealed:
On Dec. 31, 1935, Darrow received his Monopoly patent (in red, left).
IT AS MONOPOLY
Monopoly’s “Go to Jail” spaces, railroads and other aspects were among the similarities to the Landlord's Game in grid, rules and design.
Quakers in Atlantic City adapted Magie’s game in late 1920s, adding names of local places to the board. A friend shared this version with Darrow in 1932. He sold it to Parker Brothers in March 1935, with the name Monopoly, for $7,000 and residuals.
The game quickly became a huge commercial success.
Seeking full control of the game, George Parker traveled in November from Salem, Mass., to Arlington, Va., and offered Magie $500 dollars for her Landlord’s Game and two other games, with no royalties. Two days after the agreement, Magie wrote in a letter to George Parker:
“Farewell, my beloved brain-child.”
Magie’s game was advertised by word of mouth and became popular among left-wing intellectuals. Landlord was played in colleges and universities.
On Jan. 5, 1904, Magie received her patent (board at left).
The Post asked four Monopoly-minded souls to update Lizzie Magie’s original countercultural board game to reflect today’s economic and social realities.
Director of the Henry George Birthplace, Archive and Historical Research Center in Philadelphia.
President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based policy think tank.
Washington Post policy editor, with primary responsibility for Wonkblog and the paper’s economic coverage.
Former New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter, author of “The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury,
and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game.”