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Business & Finance: Monopoly & Politics

4 minute read

If a nation may be judged by the games it plays, the U. S. is growing remarkably cynical toward two prime phases of U. S. life—business and politics. For months the fastest-selling non-card game in the U. S. has been Monopoly. Full of real estate, utilities, railroads, mortgages, foreclosures, rents, taxes, maintenance, assessments, it is a parlor pastime generally calculated to appeal to the baldest acquisitive instincts. Monopoly boomed through the Christmas season, was last week selling faster than ever.

The game is played something like parcheesi, tokens being moved around a spaced board by throwing dice. Spaces are marked off into streets, water works, jail, etc. When a player lands on an unoccupied street he may buy it with scrip money, thereafter levy rent upon any other player who lands on it. If he acquires two or three adjoining streets, he may start a development, building houses and hotels, which enable him to charge higher & higher rents. Since each player starts with the same amount of scrip, it is necessary to have a nice sense of liquidity, investing enough to provide income, saving enough for emergencies like 10% capital levies or monopolistic rent payments. Idea is to force the other players into bankruptcy, leaving the winner with all the assets and no customers.

Erroneous is the popular legend that Monopoly was originally devised by Henry George to demonstrate the validity of his single tax theories. The basic patent on Monopoly was obtained by Mrs. Elizabeth M. Phillips, a Virginian who is indeed a single taxer and developed the idea years ago under names like Business and The Landlord’s Game. Monopoly in its present form was patented by an unemployed Philadelphian named Charles B. Darrow, whose last job (1930) was with a coal company lecturing dealers on new anthracite uses. Inventor Darrow built the first set in 1931, sold a few to friends, finally got it into Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia. Parker Brothers of Salem, Mass., No. 1 U. S. game makers, turned Monopoly down at first because it required too many gadgets, took too long to play (two hours to all night). Last spring after Monopoly had taken hold Parker changed its mind, bought the game from Mr. Darrow.

Gaining fast but still behind Monopoly is Politics, a game in which each player is given $1,000,000 in scrip money to get himself elected President of the U. S. Three dice are rolled, the total on each roll entitling the player to stick colored pins in a big map of the U. S. Each State has an arbitrary seven counties, except a few in the East which have only four for lack of space on the map. Count is by electoral vote, and the importance of the State is roughly indicated by the number of dice points required to win one county. Thus while it takes only one point to win a county in Arizona, nine are needed in New York, eight in Pennsylvania. After winning all counties, the player indicates his capture of that State by sticking a pin in the capital.

Another way of winning counties is to pay $20,000 as a “Radio Fee” which allows a player to sound off with cards representing his platform. If one of his cards reads, “I declare in favor of unlimited coinage of silver,” he automatically wins counties in some of the silver States. If a card advocates the “share-the-wealth” movement, the player has to pay all other candidates $10,000 while winning a few counties in the South, two in Wisconsin. After every State has at least one pin in it, a count is taken each time the dice show a pair or three of a kind. Unless some player has 266 electoral votes (a winning majority) the one with the lowest count is eliminated.

Politics is a slower game than Monopoly, requires more skill. It was invented by Oswald (“Oz”) Lord, a tall, gangling Manhattan Yaleman (Class of 1926) who holds down a good desk in the family textile firm of Galey & Lord. One of nine children, Oz Lord says he thought of Politics while taking a hot shower last spring. Other Lord ideas have been a foot ball game invented at the age of 12 (successful) and a backgammon dice duplicator (unsuccessful).

Just before sailing for Europe last autumn he got an order for six dozen sets of Politics from Manhattan’s F. A. O. Schwarz (toy store), had to call upon guests to help sort thousands of colored pins on his apartment floor. Last week with Politics having advanced from the handicraft stage to the hands of Parker Brothers, Inventor Lord claimed that sales were running above 500 sets per day in stores throughout the land.

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