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Indy Lifestyle Online
Monopoly is 60 years old today. It is one of the world's best-known board games and it has been more successful than even its American inventor, Charles Darrow, an out- of-work heater salesman, can ever have imagined.

Darrow took The Game, as he called it, to Parker Brothers, the world's largest games' manufacturers, in 1934, and was told that it had 52 basic faults, mainly being too long, too complicated and too inconclusive. He went home to Philadelphia and decided reluctantly - he was, after all, designing a game for armchair capitalists - to risk some of his own capital and have his board game, still called The Game, printed privately.

It sold well locally, and Parker Brothers realised they had made a mistake. In 1935, they bought the rights, giving Darrow a royalty, and Monopoly was born. In 1934, Darrow had made 20,000 sets; by February 1935, Parker Brothers was selling that many every week.

The secretary's day trip

The next year, Parker sent a copy to Waddingtons, in Leeds, a company then mostly concerned with printing cardboard boxes. It fell to Norman Watson, a manager at Waddingtons and the managing director's son, to test it. He later claimed that he played a game against himself that lasted all weekend. And on Monday morning he persuaded his father to make Waddingtons first-ever transatlantic telephone call, to clinch the deal. It was then decided that the American game, based on the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Darrow spent his summer holidays, should be Anglicised.

Victor Watson sent his secretary, Marjory Phillips, who was a stranger to London, to the capital on a day return to do some research. It is good to think of her emerging from King's Cross station with her notebook, feeling bewildered, and setting off to note down street names that were to become household names. She had been sent to find streets that approximately corresponded, in their opulence or seediness, to the names on the American board. So off she went through the West End, along Mayfair and Oxford Street, down Regent Street, on and on; venturing east to find Whitechapel Road and Vine Street; making one excursion into south London (Old Kent Road), lunching, it is said, at the Angel and noting down Pentonville and Euston. But what an odd collection.

The wife's bracelet

Back in Leeds, the train was redrawn without its cowcatcher and the dollars were changed to pounds. The light bulb kept its Edison screw, the spelling of "jail", then noticeably American, remained, as did the New York cop, the Community Chest (the term for welfare benefits in America) and the Plymouth car. The originals for the counters are said to have been charms from Darrow's wife's bracelet.

Since going on sale, Monopoly has sold 160 million copies in 67 countries. In the UK, it still sells at the rate of 500,000 a year.

Why? Darrow himself, who retired at the age of 46 and became a traveller and collector of rare orchids, could never remember why he'd based his game on property dealing. It may be that the vagaries of capitalism were very familiar following the Wall Street Crash and the Depression. Perhaps Monopoly is popular because it allows people to control events that usually control them, or because it has a satisfactory combination of skill and luck - somewhere between chess and Snakes and Ladders. Or it could be that, like the Lottery, it's about making money

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