Pass Go and Collect $200 by Tonya Lee Stone


The subtitle explains this is The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented. I have been reading to my grandchildren in Iowa and here in Charlottesville daily since mid-March. I chose this to read because the Iowa kids play Monopoly as often as they can. It turned out to be quite interesting and after the topic came up in a conversation my friend Dorothy had with her family, I decided to write about the book. I won’t be writing about all the other books I have read the kids, but if you want to know about Ada Lace books, Mercy the pig, or Lemony Snicket, please ask.

Elizabeth Magie, observing the owner/renter imbalance around the turn of the century, created the board game she called the Landlord’s Game to point out the disparity. People liked the game and made their own boards and changed the rules to suit themselves. She got a patent for it in 1904, receiving the first patent ever given for a board game. She tried to sell the game to Parker Brothers, but they were not interested.

Needing money during the Depression, a man named Charles Darrow made many changes to the game and ultimately created the board as it now exists. He made enough games by hand to build interest and though he was initially turned down by Parker Brothers, they eventually agreed to buy the game to mass produce it. That is when Lizzie’s patent was discovered. Parker Brothers bought it from her for very little and Charles Darrow and Parker Brothers made a fortune.

One evening when Mr. Booklog and I talked about this book, he mentioned the connection of Scott Nearing to the game. He really does remember the most amazing things. Scott Nearing was memorable in our lives as the Back-to-the-Earth movement person whose work was listed in the Whole Earth Catalog. This book documents that he used the Landlord’s Game with his students beginning in 1910 when he taught at the University of Pennsylvania and they began calling it Monopoly.

The book impressed me with its clear and appropriately short descriptions of complex ideas needed to make this book work for kids. The author recognized the unfairness to Lizzie Magie at the same time as noting Charles Darrow’s role in its creation. And how interesting that the game we know is the result of changes made over the years by many players. For example, some of the well-known properties such as St. Charles Place and Boardwalk were added by the folks in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The ┬ámisspelling of Marven Gardens (as Marvin Gardens) is attributed to Charles Darrow’s friends who taught him the game.

Tonya Lee Stone, Pass Go and Collect $200, Henry Holt and Co., 2018, 40 pages (We read the kindle version). Available at the public library and from Amazon.



  • Scott Nearing … now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long, long time! Where do the years go?

    It is interesting that Parker Bros. twice failed to recognize a potential goldmine for their product line. Imagine if Darrow had not persisted in his salesmanship. No Monopoly.

    • It is amazing to read about Scott Nearing. How is it that the man who used the game in 1910 to teach in college also wrote one of the important back-to-the-land books in the mid-1950s?

      And it is interesting to have the importance of Darrow’s work, as well as the original idea for monopoly so clearly illustrated.


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