Overlooked No More: Lizzie Magie, the Unknown Inventor Behind Monopoly

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Magie’s creation, The Landlord’s Game, inspired the spinoff we know today. But credit for the idea long went to someone else.

This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

When Charles Darrow, an unemployed salesman in Philadelphia, learned about a new board game that was becoming popular in small circles, he asked his friends to type up the rules and help him jazz up the graphic design. In 1933, he copyrighted the game, Monopoly, as his own invention and began selling it in toy stores and department stores.

The real-estate trading game would go on to sell more than 275 million copies, has been licensed in hundreds of spinoff editions and has become part of the fabric of American life. It also made Darrow a millionaire. But credit for the idea behind it should not have been his. Rather, it belonged to a woman from Illinois with a versatile résumé that included writing, acting, engineering and working as a stenographer: Lizzie Magie.

The premise of Magie’s game, originally called The Landlord’s Game, would be familiar to anyone who has played Monopoly: People move their tokens around the perimeter of a square board, buying real estate along the way, which they can use to charge rent to other players. Magie patented her invention in 1904 — the same day that the Wright brothers filed one for their airplane — and it was published in 1906 through the Economic Game Company, a business she co-owned.

In her patent application, Magie wrote, “Each time a player goes around the board he is supposed to have performed so much labor upon Mother Earth, for which after passing the beginning-point he receives his wages, one hundred dollars.”

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Alamy Stock Photo

Alamy Stock Photo

Quiz: How Well Do You Know Monopoly?

For years, Charles Darrow was credited with inventing the popular board game Monopoly. But the idea actually belonged to Lizzie Magie, whose creation was called The Landlord’s Game. How well do you know the rules? Test your knowledge.

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