Updated post originally written here.
Did you know that the game Monopoly had its beginning as a tool to teach people the reality of business and its impact on human society? The game originally done by Elizabeth Maggie was hoped to be an educational tool. It was so successful that years later Clarence Darrow developed it into the game we know now. Thanks to the game board company Parker Brothers, they were able to settle with Maggie and went to market and sell the game called Monopoly by Clarence Darrow.At this point in time, Monopoly has become the most popular game in the world giving fun and squabbles among friends and family – indeed the object of the game is to be richest.
I wonder though did the aim Maggie to have the game as educational tool in revealing to its players the human cost and evils of monopoly survive?
A look at the game of Monopoly brings in mind the coming out of the United States as a world power. This was the time when the United States came out of a civil war where the industrialised and technologically advance North prevailed over agricultural South. One of the factors that led to the North’s victory was the use of the railway and the telegraph – troops, supplies, information and commands were moved at a fast paced that it helped the North defeat the South. And at the same time this was happening the industrialists came to dominate American business – people like Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockerfeller and J.P. Morgan became the Industrialists of the United States.
It is no accident then that aside from real estate the major businesses you can see on the Monopoly board would be the train lines and the utilities – electricity and water. This brings us to J.P. Morgan.
It is said that J.P. Morgan was the inspiration for Uncle Moneypenny or Mr. Monopoly. J.P. Morgan was an astute investment banker who became the owner of railways, four companies in the Monopoly game, US Steel and several electric companies. In an era of unregulated stock exchange and business J.P, Morgan knew how to leverage and how to make a profit. Of interest to us is the story about J.P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison and Nicholas Tesla.
Tesla was a former employee of Edison, who became his rival as to whose electrical system,would eventually be used by the United States public. Tesla’s partner was Westinghous while Edison’s partner was J.P. Morgan. Edison and Tesla were competing to provide the technology to produce electricity. Edison and Morgan attacked Tesla two ways. Edison did his best to show that Tesla’s technology was dangerous – efforts included electrocution of an elephant and a convict, while Edison’s partner Morgan indirectly attacked the financial viability of Tesla’s project forcing Tesla to sign over his copyright to Westinghouse and future investors. In the end although Tesla and Westinghouse won the Arizona contract. J.P. Morgan was not perturbed though and pursued his financial attack on the company of Westinghouse. He, Morgan, only relented when Westinghouse agreed to lift the copyright from Tesla’s technology. After that Morgan was able to set-up several electric companies across the United States – incidentally one of the utilities in Monopoly was the electric company. As for Edison, Morgan bought controlling shares of the company and took control.
Industrialists and Financiers like J.P. Morgan used technology and money to provide service to a number of Americans. However, at the same time unregulated business led practices that increased profits but neglected the works. The plight of the workers led to a public backlash of big business, prompting the Democrats to field a candidate who was anti-monopoly: anti-Trust .The solutions of Big Business was to back a pro-business candidate who won his name was William Mckinley. It was years later when another political challenger to Big Business rose up, this time from the Republican Party – Theodore Roosevelt. The solution of Big Business was to make him Vice-President. However, in an ironic twist of fate, McKinley was not able to finish his second tern: He was assassinated by one of the victims of Big Business, one of the laid worker from J.P. Morgan’s business empire. With Roosevelt as US President , Anti-trust cases and legislation were implemented. Tycoons like Rockefeller were brought to court, but J.P. Morgan was not – some say this was because at the time he was working with the United States to build the Panama Canal. To be sure though J.P. Morgan was more astute than Rockefeller, his political contacts and clout saved him.
An Aside: Richard Gatling and William Mckinley: The Gatling Gun and American Colonialism
Another piece of technology from the American Civil War was the Gatling Gun. Basically, It was designed to minimise losses by increasing losses on the other side. The automatic gun was so effective in bringing up the enemy’s mortality that it is still being used today. Incidentally, the gatling gun played an important role in the Spanish-American war, enabling Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to conquer San Juan Hill. American victory over the Spanish gave three new countries to the United States and its President William Mckinley Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The Americans gave Cuba freedom; Puerto Rico the protectorate and the Philippines benevolent assimilation, commonwealth and independence with parity rights. Roosevelt eventually became the Vice-President of Mckinley and then President after Mckinley was assassinated by an anarchist, who happened to be an ex-employee of the US industrialists.
Looking at the game Monopoly now brings back more than memories of Big Business but the ascent of the United States from a former British Colony to a Super Power with its own new territories. It was McKinley who decided take the Philippines via Benevolent Assimilation, Commonwealth, and Independence – other former colonies ceded by Spain fared differently Cuba was declared indecent and Puerto Rico was made into a protectorate. Of course Monopoly still allows us to learn how big business operates. Of course, there are anti-trust laws and regulations now but that only means Big Business now are more creative in their ways