February 6, 1935: Monopoly® Goes on Sale for the First Time
Merely playing Monopoly to the end is a test of ones resilience and persistence. Not surprisingly, the stories behind the game’s development and one professor’s work to defend his right to create an alternative are similarly inspiring tales of entrepreneurial resilience.
The game as we know it came out of the depths of the Great Depression. Charles Darrow, a heater salesman laid off after the Crash of 1929, started selling a board game he had seen played in Eastern Pennsylvania. He and his wife made the board (then actually oilcloth) by hand coloring in the deeds themselves.
Darrow secured a copyright and sold his games through the Wannamaker department store in Philadelphia. In 1934, he tried selling the game to Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers. They both rejected him but in 1935, after seeing the game’s success in Philadelphia, Parker Brothers wrote back. They helped Darrow to take out a patent and he would later become a millionaire—the resilient entrepreneur’s dream.
The tale of Anti-Monopoly is also indicative of unusual resolve. Prof Ralph Anspach an economics professor from San Francisco State, had played Monopoly as a child in pre-war Czechoslovakia. His family fled the Holocaust. In 1948 he would travel to Israel to defend the new Jewish homeland in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the 1970s, while explaining the dangers of cartels to his son Anspach decided to create a game in which players competed to break up monopolies (instead of build them).
He called his game Anti-Monopoly. In 1974, he was plunged into a trademark fight which pushed him to the brink of personal bankruptcy. He would ultimately argue that Monopoly was played as a folk game prior to its patenting and that therefore his game did not infringe on Hasbro’s trademark. Parker Brothers would win a court order to destroy thousands of copies of Anspach’s board game but Anspach would prevail in a 1979 Court of Appeal case which determined that the trademark “Monopoly” was generic. Parker Brothers’ appeal to the Supreme Court was denied. Congress would soon pass a law invalidating the defense used by Anspach but his own case was grandfathered in. Through his own resilience, he won.