This Is What the First-Ever Monopoly Game Looked Like

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

Yes, there was still a jail and you did still collect money when you passed Go.

The history of the original Monopoly game

You may know Monopoly as one of the most popular classic board games in modern history, or as the game that means your family members all stop talking to each other for a couple of hours over Thanksgiving. But did you know it was originally invented as a way to teach people about the problems that come with massive wealth inequality? The original Monopoly game was released in 1906, and it looked very different from the version on your shelf today. In fact, it didn’t even have the same name.

first monopoly boardCourtesy Thomas E Forsyth

The Landlord’s Game

A young woman by the name of Elizabeth Magie created the game as a “practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.” Her inspiration was a book by progressive economist Henry George, Progress and Poverty. The first version of the game was called The Landlord’s Game. Whereas the original goal of the game was to simply accumulate wealth, the goal in the eventual Monopoly version was to own industry and create a monopoly of wealth and influence. If you’re getting flashbacks of the despair you felt as your uncle cackled maniacally when you and your last $100 landed on his three-hotel property, well, that’s sort of the point of the game (the despair, not the cackling). Which is also why some people prefer to play online board games instead.

Researcher Thomas Forsyth has spent the last 20 years researching the history of The Landlord’s Game. “Elizabeth saw a concentration of the nation’s wealth with a small minority of people and wanted a way to teach people that it not only would grow worse if left alone, but that solutions existed to remedy the problem.” She hoped the game would solve those problems by illustrating their effects, and making it personal (at least in gaming terms).

As time went on, The Landlord’s Game was played in classrooms to teach students about the economy. They added new rules and changed the board around, with the name evolving from The Landlord’s Game to Auction Monopoly to finally just Monopoly. Parker Brothers soon bought the patent, and sales for the game exploded. Since then, multiple newer versions of the original Monopoly game have been published. And, true to the game’s intent, there’s money to be made from some of them.

monopoly board versionsCourtesy Thomas E Forsyth

How much are original Monopoly games worth?

Because Monopoly was such a successful game, there were thousands of copies sold, which mean thousands still survive. Even games from the 1930s don’t tend to sell for jaw-dropping prices (under $50). But there are some collectors’ and rare editions that are worth a bit more.

These include the Parker Brothers’ Patent Pending 1935 Edition (worth $300 to $900), the Parker Brothers’ 1935 Trade Mark edition (worth $380 to $1,000), and the 1991 Last Edition, given out only to employees of a manufacturing plant in Salem, Massachusetts, when Hasbro took over the game. Only 650 copies of this game were produced, and they fetch over $2,000.

Additionally, Forsyth has started to sell replicas of the original Monopoly game on his website, which looks just like Magie’s first release of The Landlord’s Game. “Right now we see history repeating itself with a great concentration of wealth, so it really is a perfect time to revisit a release of the original game after more than 100 years of solitude,” says Forsyth.

Now that you’ve got a deeper understanding of this surprisingly educational game, you’ll be better equipped to play Monopoly at your next family gathering: Just remember to ruthlessly crush your opponents! Alternatively, it might be safer to break out one of the best board games for two people.

monopoly board in playCourtesy Thomas E Forsyth

Sources:

Popular Videos

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She writes for rd.com, helps lead the editorial relationship with our partners, manages our year-round interns, and keeps the hundreds of pieces of content our team produces every month organized. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.