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Charles Darrow
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Charles Brace Darrow

(1889-08-10)August 10, 1889
Died August 28, 1967(1967-08-28) (aged 78)

Charles Brace Darrow (August 10, 1889 – August 28, 1967) was an American best known for his modification of the design of the Monopoly board game, which was based on Lizzie Magie's original invention The Landlord's Game. He became the first millionaire game designer in history, and although Magie patented her invention she received only $500. Parker Brothers falsely credited Darrow as the original inventor.

Personal life

Darrow was a domestic heater salesman from Germantown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia (the part of Germantown he lived in is now called Mount Airy) during the Great Depression. The house he lived in still stands at 40 Westview Street. While Darrow eventually sold his version of Monopoly to Parker Brothers, claiming it to be his own invention, modern historians credit Darrow as just one of the game's final developers.


Monopoly is a board game which focuses on the acquisition of fictional real estate titles, with the incorporation of elements of chance. After losing his job at a sales company following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Darrow worked at various odd jobs. Seeing his neighbors and acquaintances play a board game in which the object was to buy and sell property, he decided to publish his own version of the game, with the help of his first son, William, and his wife Esther. Darrow marketed his version of the game under the name Monopoly.

In truth, Darrow was just one of many people in the American Midwest and East Coast who had been playing a game of buying and trading property. The game's direct ancestor was The Landlord's Game, created by Elizabeth Magie. The game was used by college professors and their students, and another variant, called The Fascinating Game of Finance, was published in the Midwest in 1932. From there the game traveled back east, where it had remained popular in Pennsylvania, and became popular with a group of Quakers in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Darrow was taught to play the game by Charles Todd, who had played it in Atlantic City, where it had been customized with that city's street and property names.

In 2004 the PBS program History Detectives investigated a game board owned by Ron Jarrell of Arden, Delaware, which had elements of both The Landlord's Game and Monopoly. The investigators concluded that this game board had "key elements in it that link the Landlord’s Game and the Monopoly Game together".

The Darrow family initially made their game sets on flexible, round pieces of oilcloth instead of rigid, square carton. Charles drew the designs of the properties with drafting pens, and his son and wife filled in the spaces with colors and made the title deed cards and Chance and Community Chest cards. On these first round boards, Darrow included some of the icons (actually designed for him by a hired graphic artist) that the later Monopoly made famous, such as the large red arrow for "Go", the black locomotives on the railroad spaces, the faucet on "Water Works" and light bulb on "Electric Company" and the question marks on the "Chance" spaces. Darrow then secured a copyright for the game in 1933. The next known versions he produced had printed 'boards' on oilcloth squares with hand colored details.

Commercial sales

By 1934, Darrow started having the game printed on cardboard, and sold copies in long white boxes to Wanamaker's Department Store in Philadelphia. Later that year, Darrow showed his game first to Milton Bradley, who initially rejected it, and later to Parker Brothers.

Darrow reinvested money from the sales into smaller sets, sold in black cardboard boxes, with boards sold separately from the sets. After Darrow started to take orders from other Philadelphia department stores, Parker Brothers reconsidered.

Parker Brothers negotiated the rights from Darrow to produce the game in large scale. Darrow sought and received U.S. Patent 2,026,082  on the game in 1935, which Parker Brothers acquired. Within a year, 20,000 sets of the game were being produced every week. Monopoly ended up being the best-selling board game in America that year, and it made Darrow the first millionaire game designer in history.

Darrow was later promoted as the sole inventor of the game, though later research has shown that Magie, Jesse Raiford, Ruth Hoskins, Louis and Ferdinand Thun, and Daniel Layman, among others, were collectively responsible for many all of game's significant elements. Darrow's contribution was the visual look of the game and the iconic cartoonlike illustrations on the corner spaces. He also standardized the number of houses and hotels (32 and 12 although in his oilcloth version it was 42 and 10).

A posed photograph of Charles B. Darrow and a credit to him appear on the Parker Brothers stock exchange game Bulls and Bears copyrighted in 1936. In this case, Darrow was used as a "celebrity endorser" and the game was not created by him.

Later life and death

In 1957, Darrow appeared as a mystery challenger on the TV panel show To Tell the Truth.

Darrow died on August 28, 1967 at his home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.


In 1970, three years after Darrow's death, Atlantic City placed a commemorative plaque in his honor on The Boardwalk, near the corner of Park Place. In 1973 Ralph Anspach, an economics professor at San Francisco State University, produced Anti-Monopoly, a game similar to Monopoly, and for this was sued by Parker Brothers. During the ten year suit, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Darrow had copied down the rules directly (even the misspelling of Marven Gardens as "Marvin Gardens") from the game produced by Charles Todd.

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