display | more...

Charles Darrow was the inventor of the board game Monopoly. His original line of work was selling heating and engineering equipment. But the stock market crash of 1929 left him unemployed. For a year he supported his family doing odd jobs, such as appliance repair and basic carpentry. There were simply no other jobs to be found in his hometown of Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Darrow was an inventor in his spare time, which he had plenty of, due to his long period of unemployment. He would create board games, and jigsaw puzzles. Pretty much anything that he could use as a cheap and interesting form of entertainment for his wife and son. Some of his early ideas were quite good, but none of them were truly marketable (not even his improved Bridge scoring pad).

He wasn't the only one around facing financial problems. Most of his family and friends were also unemployed. Any form of entertainment that wasn't free, was just too expensive for them. So they would often gather together in the evenings and talk about better times. To Darrow, better times represented Atlantic City, where he had taken his family on vacations back when money wasn't a problem.

Charles made his first Monopoly game out of scraps of wood and cardboard, with a piece of round oilcloth as the board. He named the properties after places in Atlantic City (although he did misspell Marven Gardens, an error that was never corrected). He painted the familiar colors on each space of the board using free paint samples that he got from a local merchant. The game was completed with a set of colored buttons, to be used as the tokens.

Most nights he would sit around the table with his family playing his new game. Buying and selling expensive properties, and generally pretending to have the money that was lacking in their life. His friends began to want sets of their own (so they could try and beat Darrow at his own game). He would dutifully make copies for his friends, as he had no shortage of spare time anyway.

After a few months the demand for his game increased, and he began to make two sets a day. Which he would sell for $4. The orders just kept pouring in, as each person that bought the game told friends (who would also want a copy of their own). He tried selling a few in a Philadelphia department store. Those copies quickly sold out.

Darrow then increased his production, now that he knew he had a good thing going. He enlisted a friend to print the cards (managing to get production up to 6 sets per day), but even that wasn't enough to keep up with the ever growing demand for his game.

By 1934, Darrow and his friend were selling fully packaged and printed Monopoly sets. They were finally able to keep pace with their orders. That was until sales took off in Philadelphia. It started with a single department store ordering large numbers of his game. Far more than he could hope to produce on his own. He was faced with a decision, take a large loan and sell his games himself, or to sell out to a big game company. Charles thought of his family, and decided to sell out.

Charles decided to take his game to Parker Brothers. After some debate, the game was soundly rejected. It apparently violated fifty-two of Parker Brothers fundamental rules for family games. It had no clear ending, it was too complicated, and the average game just took too long. So Darrow decided to risk everything and have 5000 copies printed up on his own. With the Christmas season approaching, he found himself working double shifts simply to ship all the massive orders to the Philadelphia department stores. Even F. A. O. Schwartz ordered several hundred copies.

Parker Brothers soon changed their tune after a friend of the founders daughter purchased one of the games from F. A. O. Schwarz. They made a generous offer to buy the game outright, and offer royalties on all sets sold. But they said there had to be a few changes in the rules (the only major changes where the "short game" rules included in every box). Darrow quickly agreed so that he would not have to keep making the game himself.

Charles was soon a millionaire on the royalties alone (no one had thought the game would ever sell as well as it did, otherwise Parker Brothers would not have offered royalties). He retired at the age of 46 to a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. From there he pursued his newfound interests of world travel, photography, and collecting exotic orchids. He died in 1968 just a few years before a commemorative plaque in his honor was placed at the intersection of Boardwalk and Park Place, in his favorite town, Atlantic City.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.