This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression

Trista - June 30, 2019

The Great Depression began with the stock market crash on October 24, 1929. Today, we remember this date as “Black Thursday.” The day when stockholders sold and traded over 12 million stocks. However, the panic didn’t end there. The following Tuesday, which went down in history as “Black Tuesday,” saw over 16 million shares traded. Because of this, millions of stocks meant nothing. They were no longer worth any money to anyone. From there, the economy became a domino effect.

Because people weren’t able to buy products like they used to, stores suffered. At first, people started to purchase items on credit, but soon stores stop allowing this or closed because they couldn’t sustain themselves. However, stores weren’t the only businesses to close. Banks also closed, leaving people with very little to no money. America saw one of its worst cases of unemployment ever. About a year after the stock market crash, 4 million Americans were out of work. The following year, this number rose to 6 million.

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression
People standing in line at the soup kitchen in 1931. NARA /

While this wasn’t the first economic depression the United States dealt with, it became one of the most notable economic downturns in American history. Millions of investors became bankrupt after this crash, which in turn caused panic throughout the United States. Not even some of the most established businesses and wealthy people were except losing everything during the Great Depression. Of course, the United States government helped with what they could. However, it would take about a decade for America to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression
A “4 Children For Sale” poster during the Great Depression.

The Great Depression would survive throughout the 1930s, mostly because of the Dust Bowl. Many historians believe the Dust Bowl is the worst environmental disaster to happen during the 20th Century. The Dust Bowl started in 1930 with drought across the Southern and Midwest plains. A year later, huge dust storms began to form. Farmers quickly began losing their land to dust storms. Without their property, they weren’t able to produce food for themselves or their community.

Monopoly Saves The Day

People didn’t have much money during the Great Depression, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t play a board game and act like it. Monopoly, one of the most popular board games of all time, started to quickly make its way into the homes of people beginning in the mid-1930s. While Monopoly officially received a patent in 1904, Elizabeth Magie invented the game around 1902. Magie, who was against capitalism, wanted to show the world how capital is evil with the real estate game.

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression

The idea of people enjoying a game which focuses on money during a time when people struggled to stretch a penny can be baffling. However, you might find the reason for the interest in the board game simple. Board games became popular during the 1930s as it allowed families and friends to spend time together without having to spend money. While Monopoly wasn’t the only board game, it did become a board game which became connected to the Great Depression.

The Wonderful Benefits of Monopoly

The truth about Monopoly and the Great Depression is Monopoly held many benefits for families. One of these benefits was that Monopoly allowed families to forget about their life stresses. During the Great Depression, many members of the family felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of the economy. Parents and children as old as 7 or 8 would be found working for pennies a day. Families would skip meals because they weren’t able to buy enough food. The heavy stress would put a burden on the family. However, Monopoly would lift that burden even if only for a few hours.

Another benefit of this iconic board game is a good time. Remember, much of the entertainment we see around today wasn’t around during the 1930s. Families didn’t have TV, not all families had a radio, and they definitely couldn’t afford to go out to a movie, dinner, or another type of evening social entertainment. Therefore, they needed to find other means of entertainment and Monopoly gave families this source of entertainment they craved. Monopoly is a family-friendly game which included young children.

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression
A vintage Monopoly board. History 101.

The third benefit of Monopoly was the price. Like other board games that came about during the Great Depression, Monopoly was cheap and reusable. Families could save up to spend money on Monopoly and kept it for as long as they wanted to. Finally, Monopoly gave people psychological benefits. While they struggled financially in their daily lives, the game gave people a sense of wealth and be competitive. Humans can be naturally competitive, and Monopoly allowed them to grab onto their competitive nature in a fun and entertaining way.

Opening The Door To A New World

In the bigger picture, what Monopoly did was open the door to a whole new world. While board games were a part of life for years, Monopoly made board games extremely popular. Quickly, other board games such as Sorry!, Chutes and Ladders, and the Game of Life became popular. People started to latch onto the idea of being able to stay home and relax to a board game. Of course, the fact that many families had light in their homes by this time helped families feel cozy about their evening board game entertainment.

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression
An example of the cards for Parker Brother’s Monopoly board game. Click Americana.

Next to Monopoly, Scrabble became a popular board game during the 1930s. The man who invented Scrabble was Alfred Mosher Butts, who cited the reasoning for his inventions as boredom. Furthermore, Alfred became unemployed and realized he had a lot of time on his hands. Therefore, Alfred made advancements to a previous board game he created called Lexiko. After his invention, Alfred started selling his game. These sales helped Alfred, and his family, survive through the Great Depression.

Companies, such as Parker Brothers, continued to try to make money off of the game Monopoly. About a year after Monopoly became a hit in the homes of families all over the United States, they decided to invent another game. This game, known as Bulls and Bears, became their second major financially-themed game. However, Bulls and Bears would not see the popularity height over Monopoly. This game focused on buying and trading stocks in order to make more money than your opponents.

This Board Game Helped Families Through the Great Depression
An ad for famous Parker games in 1962 including Sorry!, Monopoly, Risk, and Careers. Flickr.

Controversy Erupts

It didn’t take long after the major success of Monopoly for the original inventor, Magie, to start contacting the newspapers. About 1936, Magie, approached the Washington Post and Washington Evening Star to inform them that she was the inventor of Monopoly. She stated that there was hardly anything different between her version and the game. Magie also told the reporters that she only made about $500 from the game. Unfortunately, Magie would never see the fame she deserved as an inventor.

Fortunately, the Great Depression would see an end in 1939. While people continued to struggle and stretch their pennies, jobs began to open, and the economy started to look a little better. The board game of Monopoly, along with many others, would continue to see popularity, with new versions created throughout the following decades. Eventually, computers would become a modern invention. Soon, people began buying versions of Monopoly that they could play on their computer. Today, you can play the game by downloading an app on your smartphone.

History Repeats Itself

However, the 1930s wouldn’t be the only time when the board game Monopoly would help see people through an economic downturn. When the economy dived around 2008, sales for board games, especially Monopoly, saw a climb. While many people bought these purchases over the internet, people continued to buy Monopoly and other board games. In fact, the sales of board games rose to 6% while the sales of other toys fell by 3%.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Great Depression History.”

“How the Great Depression Became the Golden Age for Monopoly.”, November 2018.

“The Great Depression helped invent ‘Monopoly'”, December 2018.

“Dust Bowl.”