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Joseph Kaminski

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February 22, 2019

How an Economics Professor Fought Against Monopoly

Ralph Anspach, an American born in 1926, is a retired economics professor from San Fransisco State University. Graduating from the University of Chicago, he fought with the Mahal, volunteers who went to the Middle East to fight in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, in support of the independence of Israel. You may have never heard of Ralph Anspach, but you’ve definitely heard of the famous board game Monopoly, something Anspach despises with a burning passion.

Monopoly Patent

First page of Charles Darrow’s patent submission for Monopoly, submitted and granted in 1935.

On December 1st, 1935, the board game Monopolywas patented by Charles S. Darrow, who had lost his job at a sales company following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. If you look at the history, though, Darrow was only one of many people who had created this form of buy-and-sell property game. Monopolycan be traced back to many different names and creators — perhaps the oldest being The Landlord’s Game which was patented by Elizabeth Magie in 1904. Ironically, the man who history accredits to being the creator of Monopoly cheated at his own game, stealing the idea and re-branding it as his own. Damn salesmen…

But, as they say, survival of the richest! Right? The game Monopoly would later be sold to Parker Brothers, who originally declined as they rejected the game for three fundamental errors. The corporation had cited that the game’s length and complexity was “too much”. Darrow would reinvest his money, sending shipments of his “creation” to department stores across Philadelphia. After seeing some success, Parker Brothers changed their stance on the game, negotiating the rights from Charles S. Darrow to mass produce the game. The patent for the game, acquired eighty years ago on December 1st, 1935, was given to Parker Brothers. By holiday season 1936, over twenty thousand copies of the game were being produced every week. Survival of the richest, indeed! Monopoly became the best-selling board game that year.

Fast forward a couple decades, now. In the 1970s, Professor Ralph Anspach published his own version of the game. Anti-Monopoly had the idea of casting players as lawyers, tasked with an important goal of breaking up price-gouging, fast-spreading corporations and companies through indictments. His economics background allowed him to show an intellectual challenge to the message Monopoly itself endorsed. Ralph Anspach went against the idea that salesman Charles Darrow (and many others before him, according to patent history) had. Ralph took it a step further, too, after Parker Brothers (and its then parent company General Mills) sued him over the copyright and trademarks of the Monopoly board game. Incredibly ironic, based on how the game Monopoly became a success to begin with.

“In the real world, we are all in trouble when monopolists win because there is no second game to give consumers and competitors another chance. That is why Professor Anspach invented ANTI-MONOPOLY– to show how our country tries to stop monopolists with anti-monopoly [and anti-trust] laws.

— From the box of Anti-Monopoly

During this trial, Anspach released his research, showcasing much of the early history of the game, including the long forgotten A Landlord’s Game, and bashing the court’s legislation. The court case lasted for years due to appeals, and the legal status of Parker Brothers’ copyright and trademarks on the game was not settled until 1985, ten to eleven years after Anspach was brought to court to begin with.

Despite this, Parker Brother’s current parent company Hasbro refused to acknowledge the fact that Charles Darrow hadn’t actually been the original creator of the branded game Monopoly. Up until as recently as 2012, their website still claimed the original idea for the game came from the salesman during the Great Depression. The Monopoly “legend,” as Hasbro called Darrow on their website, “is a corporate fairy tale,” according to Professor Anspach, who argues that the company fails to acknowledge key players in the game’s genesis.

Regardless, the economics professor eventually won the right to sell his version of the game, selling 200,000 copies in 1973 alone (before the trials) and surviving the onslaught of complaints and lawsuits for the violation of trademark for a decade. Unfortunately, we won’t ever see Anti-Monopoly take the popular culture platform away from Monopoly, the true monopolistic board game in American history.

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