Parker Brothers almost rejected Monopoly, but it’s a good thing they didn’t… just ask British World War II veterans. True story. During World War II, Uncle Pennybags helped British Airmen escape from German POW camps.
It all started when Germany let relief organizations deliver care packages to the prisoners, including “games and pastimes,” and the British government took full advantage. They created fake charities to sneak in items that the Germans would never have allowed: supplies that helped prisoners to escape.
I Love it When a Plan Comes Together
The crafty devils over at British MI9 worked together with Monopoly’s UK manufacturer, Waddingtons, to hide the supplies in plain sight. Metal files and compasses were disguised as regular playing pieces, French, German, and Italian bank notes were tucked under the play money, and most importantly, maps were hidden inside the board.
Before the brave lads of the Royal Air Force took off, they were told that if they were captured and wanted to get out of jail free, they should look for monopoly boards with a red dot on the “Free Parking” space. Other codes hidden on the game boards also told the prisoners what kinds of maps were hidden within.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Why Monopoly? The game was the perfect size to fit everything they needed, and it was wrapped in a cloak of iconic innocence, free from suspicion. It also had one crucial quality that all other board games at the time lacked. Remember Waddington? They didn’t just make games. They also happened to be the only manufacturer who had mastered the art of printing on silk instead of paper. Printing on silk avoids wear and tear, and it also dodges that revealing rustling noise paper makes when it’s taken out and unfolded. What was the point of helping the POWs escape if a loud crackling gave them away?
MI9 developed other ways of concealing supplies for escape, like hollow boot heels and cigarette boxes, and Waddingtons put silk maps in chess sets and playing cards, too, but Monopoly gave them the most concealment bang for their buck.
How Monopoly Almost Wasn’t
When Charles Darrow invented Monopoly using handwritten cards and supplies from his own home, Parker Bros thought it was too complex, too long, and that its theme wasn’t amusing enough (as if Atlantic City isn’t entertaining). It’s a good thing they decide to make it, because its popularity has never diminished. In 2015, that famous blue boardwalk turned 80 years old, and every year, more Monopoly money is printed than U.S. dollars. That’s right, even though the Unites States Bureau of Engraving and Printing goes through almost 10 tons of ink per day printing U.S. currency, the man with the black top hat is still so popular that he prints more money than we do.
In its 80 years of gameplay, a lot of trivia has surrounded Monopoly. A set of pieces from a Monopoly game was shot into space on the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2007, and the longest game in recorded history lasted for 70 days. There have been thousands of editions of Monopoly since its creation, from Disney Villains Monopoly, to Bass Fishing Monopoly, to Grateful Dead-opoly, but the most historically significant edition ever made saved thousands of lives, was made in secret, and didn’t even have a clever name.