Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie – Inventor of the game “Monopoly”
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie-Phillips was born in Macomb, on May 9th, 1866, the year after the Civil War ended and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Her father, James K. 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.
Aside from being an actress, writer, poet, pioneering feminist and an inventor who held several patents, Lizzie Magie is best known for creating what has become the most popular board game in the world: Monopoly.
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, as 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 was quite unique for its time. It 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 patent for the game. Bear in mind this was at a time when less than one percent of patent holders were women.
Ironically, decades later it was Magie’s Landlord’s Game, that Charles Darrow was taught by a friend, played and then in 1935 appropriated and sold to Parker Brothers under the name of Monopoly. The version of that game held the core of Magie’s game, but included some 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. Soon after making its deal with Darrow Parker Brothers, in its effort to seize total control of Monopoly and other related games, struck a deal with Lizzie to purchase her Landlord’s Game patent and two more of her game ideas. If not for her trailblazing patent, the original game and Lizzie Magie herself may have been lost in history.
(A set of Lizzie’s rare and authentic original board games are on display for the public in Macomb’s historic Amtrak Train Depot outside the Unforgettable Forgottonia / MACVB offices.)
While Darrow made millions with an agreement that ensured he would receive royalties, Lizzie’s income for her creation was reported to be a mere $500. But Lizzie Magie or even Parker Brothers and Charles Darrow, could have ever imagined that Monopoly would not only be hit, but a global sensation and perennial best-selling game for generations.
– portions condensed from the Feb. 13, 2015 New York Times article by Mary Pilon, author of the book, The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game.
Macomb has officially proclaimed May 9th, Lizzie’s birthday as “Lizzie Magie Day”
Watch this CBS profile on the subject: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-scandalous-history-of-monopoly/
See an exhibit of Lizzie’s authentic games, including an original example of her Landlord’s Game on display in Macomb’s historic Train Depot.
From a 1906 advertisement:
The Landlord’s Game, invented by Lizzie J. Magie of Washington, D. C. will be manufactured and ready for the market about June 1st.
The Landlord’s Game is played on a board about 18 inches square, divided into 44 spaces representing all the various institutions of modern commercial life. The names of some of these spaces are “Soakum Lighting System,” “Slambang Trolley,” “Gee Whiz Railroad,” “Lord Blueblood’s Estate,” “Wayback,” “Boomtown,” “Easy Street,” “Broadway,” “Timberlands,” “Oil Fields,” “Jail,” “Poor House,” etc.
The play on the board is started by the throw of dice which indicates the moves of the players and from that time on the transactions between individuals, corporations and the government are entered into with vim and interest. At the start the players are equally equipped but as the moves continue the majority of the players are apt to be forced into poverty, some even arriving at the Poor House, while one player generally becomes the millionaire.
THE SINGLE TAX
This condition prevails until the adoption of the single tax on land values, when the land rents, instead of being appropriated by individual players, are turned into the public treasury and used for public improvements. The game as then continued equalizes opportunities and raises wages, while it is impossible for one player to get any great advantage over the others.
The game brings out with great cleverness the exact position in the commercial world of money, transportation and land monopoly. Unlike most game preserves all the principal features of the popular chance and skill games, at the same time demonstrating the problems with clearness and simplicity. It is easily learned and is played with great enthusiasm by children as well as adults.
The game will be furnished in a neat box with lithographed board in colors, will include a pack of cards representing title deeds, railroad charters, etc., besides checkers, dice, money and all other implements necessary to the playing of the game.
Address MISS LIZZIE J. MAGIE, Secretary, ECONOMIC GAME COMPANY, 58 WEST 68TH ST., NEW YORK, N. Y.
Watch PBS’ American Masters, Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History
Click the video below to watch the Smithsonian Channel’s