Milton Bradley and George Parker: The Board Game Empire Founders

Milton Bradley and George Parker: The Board Game Empire Founders
Updated date:
Jan 26, 2022

Table of Contents

Bradley was a draftsman and lithographer who improved the printing process. He released The Checkered Game of Life, a "morality" game, as a sideline to his lithography business, later characterized by Playthings magazine as "the first game with a purpose (that) offered a lesson of success via integrity and good living." It wasn't the first, but it was the first to do well in the market.

Bradley Beginnings

Bradley Beginnings‍

The Game of Life as we know it revolves around a single early decision: whether to go to school or acquire a job. After that, each soul is at the mercy of the vengeful spinner, implying that life is a series of accidental collisions at random and that we are always at the mercy of fate's capricious flick. Mr. Bradley's perspective on fate was far more energizing.

Following the Bradley family tree concludes that a pretty bleak meaning of "life" may have dominated his outlook. His family’s bark had been scarred by murders, Indian attacks, kidnappings, and even the pouring of burning embers into the mouth of a child. But it was a little less prone to being butchered when Milton eventually made his way onto the earth in 1836, but far from economic titans. During the 1858 recession, Milton worked as a draftsman and patent agent for the residents of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Soon after, he changed careers and launched the town's first color lithography shop. Milton was making a fortune selling lithographs of the predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, with the 1860 presidential race on the horizon. There was just one issue…

Abe, the honest man, had grown a beard. Customers were furious, and they were returning the prints in droves, alleging they were blatant forgeries. That quirky hat wasn't even on Lincoln's head!

Milton was troubled; he burned his last lithographs and suffered a significant financial loss - yet another snub to the Bradley heritage.

Life is a Checkered Game

Milton had quickly discovered a new project. He'd received a copy of a board game from a buddy. We're not sure if it was Britain's New Game of Human Life, Mansion of Bliss, or Mansion of Happiness. Still, it was a game in which players moved through a fictitious life, accumulating virtues as they went along and avoiding the penalties of onboard sins. 

The eventual goal of all of these games was the ascent of one's token into the promised land. Milton liked the idea, but he thought the game was too linear and, in the end, a little too preachy with the morality lesson. So he came up with a better idea.

In Milton’s game, players move around with a teetotum (a six-sided spinning top – dice were viewed as symbolic of the sins of gambling back then), but practically every spin has a decision aspect.

Some inescapable bad-news squares (suicide is a gruesome way to finish any board game), but if you navigate the board correctly, you might be the first to reach 100 points and win the game. More modern (and American) means of success are used to gain points: wealth, getting elected to Congress, finding happiness, and so on. It was dubbed -The Checkered Game of Life by Milton.

The Checkered Game of Life by Milton

The ultimate goal is to reach Happy Old Age at the top of the board (but it is possible to get 100 points without it). That is all there is to it. Being virtuous – or landing on squares with positive attributes – earns you points, allowing Milton to market the game as a moral pastime.

However, the best outcome has nothing to do with religious dominance, making the game more appealing. In the winter of 1860, Milton went to a stationary store in New York and presented The Checkered Game of Life. He had sold over 40,000 copies in less than a year.

Milton had discovered his true calling. His company began creating a slew of new games, even devising a way to package them so that Union soldiers could play them while waiting for reinforcements during the Civil War. He eventually became interested in other things.

The Kindergarten Movement

After attending a speech by early education pioneer Elizabeth Peabody on the kindergarten movement in 1869, Milton Bradley's company adopted a new route. Peabody promoted the German philosopher Friedrich Froebel's philosophy. According to Froebel, children learn and develop through creative activities through education. Bradley would spend the remainder of his life, both personally and via the Milton Bradley Company, promoting the kindergarten movement.

Milton Bradley and George Parker: The Board Game Empire Founders

Bradley became interested in the Kindergarten movement in the late 1860s. His company, which was deeply committed to the cause, began producing educational materials such as colored papers and paints. Bradley's generosity cost the company money because he gave these goods away for free.

Due to the late 1870s Long Depression, his financiers advised him that either his kindergarten work or they would leave. Bradley decided to keep his kindergarten assignments. George Tapley, a friend of his, purchased the lost investors' shares and took over as president of the Milton Bradley Company.

The firm was generating dozens of games and profiting on fads by the 1870s. Milton Bradley was the first company in the United States to produce croquet sets. The sets came with wickets, mallets, balls, stakes, and an official set of rules based on oral tradition and Bradley's own sense of fair play. The company began producing jigsaw puzzles around 1880.

The Parker Brothers

Other innovators appeared around the same time. The Parker Brothers created the popular games Monopoly, Flinch, Pit, Rook, Boggle, Risk, and Sorry, believing that adults and children could enjoy strategy and pleasure games.

The Parker Brothers

Everlasting was created with the intention of instilling moral values in young people. George believed that games should be enjoyable rather than preachy. He altered the rules, added lettered cards, and renamed the game Banking.

George Parker and his brothers had so much fun playing Banking that he had 500 copies manufactured and sold to stores in the Boston region. In the end, he made an $80 profit. Parker Brothers were founded as a result of that first taste of success.

Parkers' Beginning 

Parkers' Beginning 

On December 12, 1866, George Parker was born in Salem, Massachusetts. In the panic of 1873, his father, a sea captain turned trader, lost most of his money. When George was ten years old, he died in 1877. In Medford, Massachusetts, his widowed mother and two brothers, as well as an aunt and uncle, lived in an 18-room house.

One early board game, The Mansion of Happiness, was accepted by liberal Puritans. In the United States, it was first printed in Salem in 1843. The game's rights were later purchased by Parker Brothers, who republished it in 1894.

George tried to make and market a few other games before forming Parker Brothers. Those didn't go over so well. After that, he tried journalism but gave up. He ventured out on his own, selling his games and toys and games from the New York-based J.H. Singer Company.

George Parker had recruited his first employee and rented a business for $12.50 a month in Salem by 1887. (where the Hawthorne Hotel now stands). He understood he had a knack for selling and creating video games. His older brother Charles was better at production and finance than he was.

Parker Brothers Founded 

Parker Brothers was founded when George persuaded Charles to join him in 1888. After ten years, another brother, Edward, would join them. Soon after, Charles encouraged George to start producing Parker Brothers games under their name. They went to work in an old laundry on Bridge Street that they had leased.

With titles like Ye Yankee Peddler, Billy Bumps Goes to Boston, and the Yale-Harvard Game, the company's early games were aimed at a regional audience. They understood they wanted to diversify their gaming portfolio with titles that appealed to a broader audience.

The solution: make a game based on the popular Horatio Alger rags-to-riches books called Office Boy.

The company evolved and expanded, staying true to its promise to create games that "look good, play well, and sell well." Parker Brothers began producing games based on current events, such as Klondike, which was inspired by the Alaska gold rush, and War in Cuba, inspired by the Spanish-American War. The company was the first to place advertisements in newspapers for video games.

Hit's Continued Flowing

George flew to Europe and discovered ping-pong, which he brought back to the United States and turned into a bestseller.

Tiddledy-winks, Rook, Pit, and Flinch were among the hits. Parker Brothers continued to grow, eventually transforming the old laundry into an integrated manufacturing facility. The company created, manufactured, packaged, and distributed toys and games there. George continued to put the games through their paces with his family and friends.

Then came the Great Depression, which left The Parker Brothers on the verge of going out of business. The game of Monopoly saved the corporation.

Milton Bradley and George Parker: The Board Game Empire Founders

In 1935, Parker Brothers purchased the Monopoly rights from Charles Darrow, a laid-off heater salesman. However, Elizabeth Magie had previously patented the game in 1903.

In 1935, Parker Brothers figured it all out and started marketing the game. It was a huge success. Monopoly was licensed for distribution outside of the United States by Parker Brothers in 1936. Unique versions were created by British intelligence for Nazi prisoners of war. The games included maps, compasses, and real money to facilitate escapes.

Milton Bradley and The Parker Brother’s Legacy

Many famous games that people still play today were invented during the 1950s and 1960s, making it a prosperous period for board games. Many of Bradley's most iconic games, such as Candy Land, Twister, and the company's centenary offering, the Game of Life, were released during this time. 

With the emergence of digital products and video games, Milton Bradley expanded into new acquisitions and foreign contracts in the mid-century. Still, the independent winds of change were blowing for the board game business. Bradley joined the bandwagon in 1977 with the debut of Simon, an electronic memory game. The Milton Bradley Company, on the other hand, saw it as advantageous to provide stability to the newcomer, Hasbro Inc., and Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley.

On the other hand, the George Parker company went on to market classic games including Clue, Sorry!, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, and Ouija, as well as the Nerf ball. 

Milton Bradley and George Parker: The Board Game Empire Founders
The Game of Risk

Parker Brothers was a division of General Mills that developed electronic versions of their traditional games, video game cartridges, new and international Monopoly versions, a book publishing division, and a record label. 

Kenner Parker Toys, Inc. established a separate firm in 1985, but it barely survived two years until being purchased by Tonka in 1987. Tonka was purchased by Hasbro three years later after Hasbro had already purchased Milton Bradley in 1984. Hasbro's Hasbro Game Division was formed by combining the Kenner Parker and Milton Bradley divisions. The Parker Brothers plant in Salem was shut down, and all production was moved to Milton Bradley's East Longmeadow, Massachusetts location. 

Seeing that so many board games are still accessible attests to the companies' creative vision's timeless nature. Over 150 years of board game manufacture has cemented their position as titans of the board gaming world, and you can honor their tenacity by playing one of their many classic games with your friends and family. You can't beat the classics, as they say.

Honors

Both Milton Bradley and George Parker have been inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

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The Key Takeaway's

George Parker thought of business as a game that could be won if the rules were followed. He devised a set of 12 principles that he adhered to throughout his life:

  • Determine your objective and work toward it.
  • Look for "winning moves."
  • Follow the rules, but make the most of them.
  • Learn from your mistakes and build on your successes.
  • When faced with a choice of decision, choose the option that offers the possible profit vs. risk.
  • When luck isn't on your side, keep your emotions in check and prepare for your next move.
  • Give your opponents a second chance by never hesitating.
  • If the game threatens to overwhelm you, seek assistance.
  • Bet big when the odds are against you.
  • Focus on your strengths if opportunities become scarce.
  • Whether you win or lose, be kind. Don't be a jerk. Share what you've discovered.
  • Ignore the first through eleven principles at your risk!

Milton, on the other hand, was a bit more optimistic. Either that, or he believed his fellow humans had more significant influence over their fate. Given how he guided his genetic ship toward a bright future after his forefathers had suffered for millennia, I believe Milton's perspective has some merit.

The industry of American games took off with the inventions of Milton Bradley and the Parker brothers, even though games had been produced in fair quantities in the United States since the 1840s. They essentially established the board game industry in the United States. 

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