Lizzie Magie

Game designer who invented The Landlord's game, precursor to Monopoly

The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Magie, the inventor of Monopoly


Introduction: Who is Elizabeth Magie?

Elizabeth Magie was an American inventor and educator who invented the board game “The Landlord’s Game” in the early 1900s, which was a precursor to Monopoly.

She was born on May 9, 1866, in Macomb, Illinois and she died on March 2, 1948, in Arlington, Virginia.

Elizabeth Magie’s Early Life and Education

Her first job was as a stenographer, which was a person who could take notes very quickly in a special form of code. This allowed them to take down conversations in court and in businesses with a high degree of accuracy. Her father, James Magie, was a newspaper publisher who had accompanied Abraham Lincoln when he was debating Stephen Douglas. Elizabeth’s father was also an anti-monopolist and introduced her to a book called Progress and Poverty, which was exceptionally popular in the late 1800s. This book ended up being an inspiration for her game called the Landlord’s Game.

Elizabeth Magie Created The Landlord’s Game

In the early 1900s, Elizabeth filed a patent for her game. At the time, the fact that she filed for a patent was fairly groundbreaking because less than one percent of all patents were filed by women. Over a hundred years later, although women have made some progress, they are still massively under-represented in patented innovations. The number of patents with at least one woman inventor reached only 21.9% by the end of 2019. In 1905, when Ms. Magie published her game through the Economic Game Company, she was hoping it would show the public how terrible capitalism was. To that aim, she gave the game two sets of rules: the first was an anti-monopolist version where everyone was rewarded as wealth was created and the second was a cutthroat version where the players tried to bankrupt their opponents in order to win the game. In her instructions, she stated that the object of the game was “to illustrate how, under the present…system of land tenure, the landlord has an advantage over other enterprises.”

The Invention of Monopoly and its Successful Launch

The original Landlord’s Game had all of the essential qualities you think of when you think of Monopoly: fake money, deeds and properties that could be bought and sold, the ability to borrow money from the bank or other players when taxes were due, and her board featured the iconic “GO TO JAIL” space. It was an immediate hit, although the cutthroat version was the more popular of the two.

With fame came opportunists and a man named Charles Darrow stole her basic design. Although he made some small changes to make the game easier to play including adding fixed prices to the board the essential game remained unchanged. Darrow changed the name to Monopoly and sold it to Parker Brothers in 1934. Then as he was raking in huge profits from the game, he tried to buy her patent for a mere $500 flat fee. Parker Brothers learned what he had done and struck a deal with Elizabeth to publish her original Landlord Game, as well as two other games she invented called Bargain Day and King’s Men. But they never directly compensated her for the sales of “Monopoly.” None of her games published by Parker Brothers ever reached the same level of popularity.

Elizabeth Magie's patent for the Landlord Game 1903

Conclusion: The Importance of Elizabeth Magie in the World of Gaming

Maggie was quite innovative in her board game design. The loop pathway of the Landlord Game was unusual in the early 1900s and most games had a more linear pathway. That basic game board structure has influenced game design ever since then. As of the game’s 80th anniversary in 2015, 275 million copies of Monopoly had been sold worldwide.

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