Monopoly at the Strong Museum and the world’s shortest Monopoly game.

Monopoly at the Strong Museum and the world’s shortest Monopoly game.

[Audrey came all the way from Northern California to see Darrow’s iconic ur-set. Photo: David Kramer]

In Chess across the ages at the National Strong Museum of Play, Collections curator and board game specialist Nicolas Ricketts and Senior Director of Public Relations Shane Rhinewald gave me a fascinating behind the scenes tour of The Strong’s chess collection that spans centuries.

We needed an encore. When I learned the museum has the most comprehensive Monopoly collection in the world, including the earliest Charles Darrow handmade Monopoly game drawn and painted on an oilcloth board and a 1937 Italian version, Monopoli, approved by the Mussolini regime, we had our encore.

First, Nic and Shane showed the publically displayed sets: that original Darrow, looking like a giant cheesecake and two others, including a deluxe version from the 1930s.

Darrow Monopoly Set compressed

This Monopoly set, created with pen-and-ink and gouache on a circular piece of oilcloth, was handmade by Darrow in Philadelphia and rumored to be the size and shape of Darrow’s dining room table. The handmade set contains more than 200 pieces, including a rules sheet, playing cards, and playing pieces such as draw-cards, hotels and houses, banknotes, and tokens. Provided by Shane Rhinewald.

Monopoly 1930s

[Photo: David Kramer]

Monopoly on waLL cropped

[Photo: David Kramer]

We talked about the enduring appeal of Monopoly.  Shane suggested the game is “completely American.”  Shane thinks the game taps into two American themes: greed and consumerism.  At the same time, Monopoly has an “aspirational” element. The game taps into the myth of the self-made man (or woman): with luck and pluck anyone can be a winner — the American Dream — although, of course, all the players but one are losers.

Nic added that the figure of Darrow himself is part of the Monopoly aura.  As Nic discussed (and mentioned in the display explanatory text), the origins of Monopoly have been controversial, especially to the degree that Darrow’s version was mostly an adaptation.  In 1904, Elizabeth Magie devised The Landlord’s Game as social commentary to dramatize the social pitfalls of unequal wealth.  Darrow turned the narrative on its head, but the basic structure was the same. Nonetheless, the popular legend and myth of Monopoly is that Darrow, an unemployed plumber, invented the game sui genesis, marketed it brilliantly, made a lot of money and then sold it to Parker Brothers for a handsome sum.  Like the player who captures Boardwalk and Park Place, Darrow himself was the first Monopoly winner.

Looking at the times in which Darrow first marketed his edition, Nic has also said:

Monopoly has remained popular throughout the decades because it allows people to dream what it would be like to be rich; an appealing thought, especially during the Great Depression when the game first became immensely popular.  (See Monopoly: An American Icon )

Nick and Shane

Collections curator and board game specialist Nicolas Ricketts (left) and Senior Director of Public Relations Shane Rhinewald [Photo: David Kramer]

Then we went into the groaning shelves where the 200 plus sets not publically displayed are stored.  Perhaps the most interesting is Monopoli, the 1937 Italian Fascist-approved version that obscured the game’s blatant capitalism.  As Nic wrote in Tea or Monopoly with Mussolini? , the cleverly designed game allowed Italians to “play a version of the popular American real estate game and celebrate American-style winning.”

We also saw Anti-Monopoly, created in 1973.  Anti-Monopoly is modeled after Monopoly but designed to counter impressions taught by the mainstream game that monopolies are something desirable. In some ways, Anti-Monopoly has a message similar to Elizabeth Magie’s 1904 “The Landlord’s Game.”  Anti-Monopoly survived a copyright infringement suit and continues today as Anti-Monopoly II.


With some of The Strong’s world’s most comprehensive Monopoly and related games collection. [Photo: Shane Rhinewald]

I was also excited that Audrey, who is both one of The Strong’s biggest fans and a Monopoly fan, would get to see the cheesecake-looking ur-set on one of her pilgrimages to Rochester from Northern California.

Audrey first visited The Strong when she was four.  She claims to have toured the museum at least 25 times and played at least 40 air hockey games.

Audrey was first taught Monopoly by her mother at age seven.  Audrey claims to have played at least 20 games. She claims she almost invariably beats her mother.  During Audrey’s visits, we play. I claim to almost invariably beat Audrey.

During her visit, we also attempted to break a Monopoly world record (SEE AT END).  An NPR segment, How To Win Monopoly In 21 Seconds, describes how a father and son team wanted to refute the notion that Monopoly takes too long.  If players roll the dice exactly right, the game can end quickly.  In their attempt, the father and son finished in 21 seconds.  The odds of that happening in reality are once every 253,899,891,671,040 games. 

Audrey and Grandma with die Deutsche Monopoly set

Audrey and Grandma with die Deutsche Monopoly set. From Thanks, Mom! [Photo: David Kramer]

Audrey and I made our attempt using what has been determined as the theoretically quickest way to end the game (different from that used by the father and son).  Theoretically, it takes 2 turns by each player.

We also decided to use the German-language, German Edition of the game.  I learned German in high school, but Audrey knew barely a word.  I gave her a quick tutorial allowing us to announce our throws and moves in authentic Deutsch.


Das zerbrochene Ringlein (The Broken Ring) by Joseph von Eichendorff. Memorized for Frau Groesbeck’s A.P. German class, Brighton High School, 1981

The exact time we took has been a matter of controversy, and one move may have been done in error.  Nonetheless, we claim the World’s Record for the quickest Monopoly game played in the German-language, German Edition played by native English speakers.

The Script (see video below)

Player 1, Turn 1:

Roll: 6-6, Lands on: Electric Company
Action: None, Doubles therefore roll again

Roll: 6-6, Lands on: Illinois Avenue
Action: None, Doubles therefore roll again

Roll: 4-5, Lands on: Community Chest “Bank error in your favor, Collect $200”
Action: Collects $200 (now has $1700)

Player 2, Turn 1:

Roll: 2-2, Lands on: Income Tax
Action: Pay $200 (now has $1300), Doubles therefore rolls again

Roll: 5-6, Lands on: Pennsylvania Rail Road
Action: None

Player 1, Turn 2:

Roll: 2-2, Lands on: Park Place
Action: Purchase ($350, now has $1350), Doubles therefore rolls again

Roll: 1-1, Lands on: Boardwalk
Action: Purchase ($400, now has $950), Doubles therefore rolls again

Roll: 3-1, Lands on Baltic Avenue
Action: Collect $200 for passing GO (now has $1150), Purchase 3 houses for Boardwalk, 2 for Park Place ($1000, now has $150)

Player 2, Turn 2:

Roll: 3-4, Lands on: Chance, “Advance to Boardwalk”
Action: Advance to Boardwalk, Rent is $1400, only has $1300 = Bankrupt

THE VIDEO: Compressed courtesy of the University of Rochester’s IT Computer Lab assistant Anik (using Handspring).  File is large and takes a bit to load.


Chess across the ages at the National Strong Museum of Play

Is chess “the work of Satan?”

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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