Financial History Issue 113 (Spring 2015) | Page 14

MONOPOLY’S LOST By Mary Pilon For many years, the story of Monopoly’s origins began with a man during the Great Depression. However, the game actually dates back to a left-wing woman, Lizzie Magie, who received a patent for her Landlord’s Game back in 1904. In this excerpt from her book The Monopolists, Mary Pilon explains who Magie was and what she was trying to say with her revolutionary business board game. Courtesy of Tom Forsyth To Elizabeth Magie, known to her friends as Lizzie, the problems of the new century were so vast, the income inequalities so massive, and the monopolists so mighty that it seemed impossible that an unknown woman working as a stenographer stood a chance at easing society’s ills with something as trivial as a board game. But she had to try. Night after night, after her work at her Washington, DC, office was done, Lizzie sat in her home, drawing and redrawing, thinking and rethinking. It was the early 1900s, and she wanted her board game to reflect her progressive political views, which centered on the economic theories of Henry George. A charismatic 19th century politician and economist who had passed away just a few years before, George had been a proponent of the “land value tax,” also known as the “single tax.” His main tenet was that individuals should own 100% of what they made or created, but that everything found in nature, particularly land, should belong to everyone. Land was not meant to be seized, bought, sold, traded or parceled into city blocks where people were forced to pay exorbitant rents. Since, however, some people did own land, they should pay a tax for that privilege. All other goods should remain strictly untaxed. The Landlord’s Game, precursor to Monopoly, was patented by Lizzie Magie in 1904. 12    FINANCIAL HISTORY  |  Spring 2015  |