The Story of 5 Women and Their Incredible Inventions - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

Inspiring Women

The Story of 5 Women and Their Incredible Inventions

Their amazing stories …and the men who stole all the credit.

By 

Elizabeth Magie

Unlike most women of her era, Elizabeth Magie supported herself and didn’t marry until she was 44. She worked various jobs and spent her leisure time performing standup comedy and creating a board game that was an expression of her strongly held political beliefs.

The Story of 5 Women and Their Incredible Inventions

She was in her 30s when she applied for a patent for her game in 1903, after years of developing and revising the game. She represented the less than 1 percent of all patent applicants at the time who were women. (Elizabeth also dabbled in engineering; in her 20s, she invented a gadget that allowed paper to pass through typewriter rollers with more ease.)

In 1904 she started producing her board game, which she called Landlords as a criticism of capitalism and land monopolism. She had created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.

The Story of 5 Women and Their Incredible Inventions

In an ironic twist, Charles Darrow stole the idea from her and sold it to Parker Brothers as Monopoly. He got all the credit, but now we know that all those game-night family feuds were really thanks to Elizabeth Magie. The completely fabricated tale, repeated for decades and tucked into the game’s box, was that an unemployed man named Charles Darrow invented the game in the 1930s. He sold it and became a millionaire, his inventiveness saving him — and Parker Brothers, the beloved New England board game maker — from the brink of destruction. It’s a great ‘American Dream’ story — except it isn’t true.

As they realized that the game would be a success, Parker Brothers convinced Elizabeth to accept $500 for the patent for The Landlord Game and two other games she created, with no royalties. She had no idea that other game inventors had gotten paid much, much more for their inventions, or that Parker Brothers would do their best to erase her name from history.

The Story of 5 Women and Their Incredible Inventions

The New York Times reported that, in a series of 1936 interviews, she expressed anger at Darrow’s appropriation of her idea. Then elderly, her gray hair tied back in a bun, she hoisted her own game boards before a photographer’s lens to prove that she was the game’s true creator. “Probably, if one counts lawyer’s, printer’s and Patent Office fees used up in developing it,” The Evening Star said, “the game has cost her more than she made from it.”

In 1948, Elizabeth Magie died alone, in relative obscurity and relatively poor. Neither her headstone nor her obituary mentions her role in the creation of Monopoly.

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A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she spends most of her time in France, NYC, London and Switzerland, and travels extensively around the world. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 71 Comments

  1. Hena Taylor

    The photographers should thank them. I am not familiar with their names, but I am thankful for their inventions.

  2. Jonathon Swift

    In behalf of the men of this generation, I am sorry for the loss accreditation, and I am thankful that you did these inventions that until now we are using.

  3. Lusi Martin

    Apgar is being smart on it. If someone would take the credits, well sorry for you because the name itself is based on her Surname. Haha!

  4. Honey Smith

    Margaret Knight is a lifesaver too! I can’t imagine myself using an envelope type bag for my clothes that I bought.

    • Jessi Agusta

      Haha! That’s what I am thinking too. How hassle it is to bring envelope type of bags when going to the mall.

  5. Bela Christo

    Can you believe that the things that we usually use for our everyday lives are being invented by women? Lol. We should be proud!

  6. Anila William

    I enjoyed reading this. Now I know that the inventors are not just male, but there are female inventors too.

  7. Robert Patel

    This made me speechless for a minute. I don’t know what to say, but I am very sorry. These people, especially Magie, deserves to be known.

    • Cristina Joseff

      They paid them $500 for the patent. $500? Can you imagine how small is that?

  8. Nancy Smith

    These women give a lot of contribution to our life. Can you imagine your life without their inventions? I wish some of them gets the accreditation that they deserve.

  9. Thank you, Mary Jacob! I don’t know how to live without those comfortable bras. Can you imagine wearing other shapes of bras? Lol

  10. The inventor of the Monopoly deserves more, but those men get what she deserves. I wish they live a happy life. They did not deserve all the money and fame that they got from someone’s work.

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