Monopoly, from its origins in Muhlenberg’s history

Sprouting from our discussion of the intertwined past of the Muhlenberg Family, we occasionally stumble across references to the Muhlenberg family in nationwide publications. Our friend Donna recently handed us an article from the April 2015 issue of Games World of Puzzles, in which an article by Julie Harris, “Monopoly: Behind the Scenes of an American Classic”, mentioned Charles Muhlenberg of Reading, PA as being an early contributor to the popular board game we know today. We narrowed this Charles down to Charles Henry Muhlenberg V, son of one of the founders of Muhlenberg Brothers (and later a partner of the firm), and cousin of our founder, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, FAIA.

This 1936 “Monopoly” board is a direct copy of the 1916 board used by Paul Sherk.

 

The history of the Muhlenberg affiliation with the game Monopoly is best described in the Winter 1978 edition of the Historical Review of Berks County, reprinted by The Landlord’s Game website. This history, written by Charles J. Adams III, with contributions from some of the original players, including Paul Sherk and Louis Thun of Reading, PA, includes pictures of the original board used by Paul Shirk of Wyomissing, PA.

As the history is told, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) J. Magie of Arden, Delaware created a game to explain the teachings of Henry George, a late 19th century economics reformer. Around 1900, Magie taught the game to her fellow activists in Arden, including a future economics professor for the University of Pennsylvania, Scott Nearing. Nearing used the game in his economics lectures at Penn, and by 1915, one of this students, Thomas Wilson of Reading, PA brought the game back home, now undergoing the popular identity change from “The Landlord’s Game” to “Monopoly.”

The popular game quickly spread throughout Berks County to the entire mid-Atlantic States area. Charles Muhlenberg learned the game from Tom Wilson, his older cousin, and Charles’ sister, Virginia Muhlenberg, drew a Monopoly board for their friends to use. From this “Muhlenberg board”, Paul Sherk copied his own board, and the number of makeshift Monopoly boards in Reading grew. Monopoly players would gather at the houses of Charlie Muhlenberg, Paul Sherk and Jerry Boyer, spending their pastime playing a game that much resembled the modern-day equivalent.

Image of the paper money, mortgage cards, improvised game markers (including French, Chinese, and an ancient Greek coin) utilized in the game that was played in Berks County two decades before the “invention” of the game of Monopoly by Charles Darrow of Philadelphia. The 1916 board was sold by Sherk to the Parker Brothers game company.

 

Frederick A. Muhlenberg, founder of today’s Muhlenberg Greene Architects, Ltd., was an older cousin of Charles Muhlenberg, and would have been 28 years old at the time. Having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912, he was likely already in Philadelphia, serving an apprenticeship at the office of John T. Windrim, Architect. As we noted in an older post, all the Muhlenbergs in Reading area were related, and untangling that web of history is not easy! But it certainly makes it interesting when we come across a small bit of the Muhlenberg Family in the history of the game of Monopoly!

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