Massachusetts

The Parker Brothers of Salem, Mass., Build A Game Empire

Search any New England attic and you're likely to find a version of Parker Brothers' Monopoly. The beloved board game can trace its existence to 1883, when 16-year-old George Parker decided to liven up a dull game called Everlasting.

parker-brothers

George, Charles and Edward Parker.

Everlasting was designed to teach moral lessons to young people. George thought games should be fun, not preachy. He added lettered cards, changed the rules and called the game Banking.

George Parker and his brothers enjoyed playing Banking so much he had 500 copies printed up and sold them to Boston-area retailers. In the end he cleared a profit of $80. That first taste of success led to the creation of Parker Brothers.

For a century, Parker Brothers was a mainstay employer in Salem, Mass., and the publisher of 1,800 games.

George Parker

George Parker was born in Salem on Dec. 12, 1866. His father, a sea captain turned merchant, lost most of his money in the panic of the early 1870s. He died in 1877, when George was 10. His widowed mother and two brothers, along with an aunt and an uncle, lived in an 18-room house in Medford, Mass.

One of those rooms had shelves full of board games, relatively new in Puritan Massachusetts.

Liberal Puritans accepted one early board game called The Mansion of Happiness: An Instructive Moral and Entertainment Amusement. It was first printed in the United States in Salem in 1843. Parker Brothers would later buy the rights to the game and republish it in 1894.

But before starting Parker Brothers, George tried his hand at making and selling a few more games. Those didn’t do too well. He then tried journalism, but gave it up. He went off on his own, selling his games along with toys and games from the J.H. Singer Company in New York.

Parker Brothers Born

George-S-Parker

George Parker, Parker Brothers founder

By 1887, George Parker had hired his first employee and rented a store in Salem for $12.50 a month (where the Hawthorne Hotel now stands). He realized he was good at selling and developing games. He was not so good at production and finance, though his older brother Charles was.

George in 1888 invited Charles to join him as a partner and Parker Brothers was born. Another brother, Edward, would join them 10 years later.

Charles soon persuaded George to manufacture Parker Brothers games under their own roof. They leased an old laundry on Bridge Street and went to work.

The company’s earliest games were designed to appeal to a regional audience, with names like Ye Yankee Peddler, Billy Bumps Goes to Boston and the Yale-Harvard Game. They realized they needed to branch out with games that had national appeal. The solution: Create a game called Office Boy, based on the popular Horatio Alger rags-to-riches books.

The company innovated and grew, adhering to its pledge to make games that ‘look well, play well and sell well.’ Parker Brothers started publishing games with tie-ins to current events, such as Klondike, based on the Alaska gold rush, and War in Cuba, based on the Spanish-American War. The company was the first to advertise games in newspapers.

Hits Keep On Coming

George traveled to Europe, spotted ping-pong, and brought it back to the U.S., where it became a best seller.

The hits kept on coming: Tiddledy-winks, Rook, Pit, Flinch. Parker Brothers kept expanding, turning the old laundry building into an integrated complex. There the company invented, produced, packaged and shipped toys and games. George continued to test the games with family and friends.

Monopoly_UK_postcard

Postcard announcing Monopoly in the UK

Then came the Great Depression, which nearly put Parker Brothers out of business. Monopoly saved the company.

Parker Brothers bought the rights to Monopoly in 1935 from a laid-off heater salesman named Charles Darrow. The game, though, had already been patented in 1903 by a woman named Elizabeth Magie.

Parker Brothers sorted it all out and began selling the game in 1935. It was wildly successful. In 1936, Parker Brothers licensed Monopoly for sale outside the United States. British intelligence had special versions made for prisoners of war held by Nazis. The games had maps, compasses and real money to aid escapes.

George Parker retired from Parker Brothers’ day-to-day operations as Monopoly started to take off. The company would go on to sell iconic games such as Clue, Sorry!, Risk, Trivial Pursuit and Ouija, and it would introduce the Nerf ball. It would remain family-owned until 1968, when it was sold to General Mills. After a series of mergers, the Salem plant on Bridge Street closed in 1991.

George Parker died on Sept. 26, 1952.

Game Rules

George Parker believed business was like a game, that if you followed the rules you could win. parker-brothers-office-boyHe developed 12 rules that he followed all his life.

  1. Know your goal and reach for it.
  2. Find "winning moves."
  3. Play by the rules but capitalize on them.
  4. Learn from failure; build upon success.
  5. When faced with a choice, make the move with the most potential benefit versus risk.
  6. When luck runs against you, hold emotion in check and set up for your next advance.
  7. Never hesitate and give your opponents a second chance.
  8. Seek help if the game threatens to overwhelm you.
  9. Bet heavily when the odds are long in your favor.
  10. If opportunity narrows, focus on your strengths.
  11. Be a gracious winner or loser. Don't be petty. Share what you learn.
  12. Ignore principles 1 to 11 at your peril!

Parker Brothers image: By Edward - http://parkerbrothersfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2009/05/george-swinnerton-charles-and-edward.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57931761. This story was updated in 2017.

 

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Bobo Leach

    Bobo Leach

    December 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I remember driving by the Parker Brothers building in Salem.

  2. Clare Silliman

    Clare Silliman

    December 12, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    I learned about Swiss bank accounts while playing Monopoly.

  3. Cynthia Stempert

    Cynthia Stempert

    December 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Monopoly is pretty much “everlasting.” Hours and hours long. Omg kill me. Lol.

  4. Dana McPhee

    Dana McPhee

    December 12, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    The Parker Brothers buildings were in rough shape and they didn’t allow tours, even though many wanted to visit…The closing of Parker Brothers happened when Salem had already lost it’s other major manufacturing companies. Things changed when in the early 1970’s the Situation-Comedy “Bewitched” TV show filmed two season-hightlight episodes in Salem, weaving their characters into the story of the Salem Witch trials, and most importantly, Halloween. (Nothing actually happened in Salem on Halloween during the Witch Trials – the Court of Oyer and Terminer, who arrested over 440 people, hanged nineteen, pressed one to death, and caused five others to die in jail, was ended and replaced by a new, forgiving court, by Governor Phipps, in September, when the Governor’s wife was accused of witchcraft.)
    The broadcasts caused tourism to soar, and changed Salem forever. Salem smartly took advantage, and started “Haunted Happenings”, with events throughout October, which is why city officials went along with TV Land erecting a statue of the Bewitched main character, Samantha/Elizabeth Mongomery in the center of the city. Some people, myself included, liked the statue, but regretted the choice of location, across the street from the original site of the main Salem Witch Trials.

    http://www.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/legacy/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/550_samantha.jpg

    The city, small in area, but rich in history, now receives one million visitors every year…they are now expanding the city wharf where they hope to attract medium-sized cruise ships…

  5. Cynthia Melendy

    Cynthia Melendy

    December 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I loved driving into Salem and seeing the factory there, like a good luck charm.

  6. Míchêlle Moön

    Míchêlle Moön

    December 12, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    There’s a lot more to the Monopoly story than that. It was almost completely lifted from a game called The Landlord’s Game, invented and patented by Elizabeth Magie in 1904. The game was intended as an economic teaching tool, showing how the early advantage in acquiring property delivered exponential dividends and contributed to increasing inequity over time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Landlord's_Game

  7. Míchêlle Moön

    Míchêlle Moön

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Dana, I live in Salem. I’m confused by your statement that the Samantha statue is “across the street” from the location of the court of Oyer and Terminer. I can’t find any verification of that. Can you point me to a citation that gives the location of that set of hearings at the present-day Essex and Washington intersection? Thanks.

  8. Carleton Jay LaPorte Jr.

    Carleton Jay LaPorte Jr.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Did you know that Parker Brothers developed from its invention of the first version of the popular game of Monopoly which was produced in Salem, MA. for more than a century.

  9. Edgar A Turner Jr

    January 5, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    My Russell relatives worked there and we had our large family christmas parties there in the dinning building catered on the premises. I remember the US Army vehicles shared the lot by the dinning hall. This would have been from 1957 – 1969

    • Edgar A Turner Jr

      January 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      I have somewhere pictures of the dinning hall during the Christmas fest. we always had a huge Turkey dinner for all 33 Grand Children and the 11 married aunts and uncles of the Russell Family and of course my grand parents of which Vernon C Russell was Santa making his appearance to hand out gifts from under the tree and yes a lot of Parker Brothers Games were always under that tree

  10. Nancy Delude Davis

    May 25, 2015 at 1:55 am

    My father started out sweeping the floors of the Parker Brothers game factory in Salem. He quickly worked his way up and was offered a job as production manager in the collating department. Then in 1961 he was offered an opportunity to transfer to Iowa and assist with opening a new plant.

    I have many fond memories of Parker Games. As a child, the company holiday parties with Santa and summer picnics at Riverview Amusement Park. And, as a teen having the very first Nerf football before they were on the market made me very popular with the boys. But tagging along with my father while he worked after hours and on the weekends were very special times. In the warehouse among a sea of wooden pallets stacked with cartons of games we played hide and seek for hours with our own sets of rules. And when he was finished with his paperwork he would signal for us to meet him at the car by letting out a loud whistle!

  11. Howard safe

    March 28, 2016 at 5:10 am

    So much better

  12. Richard Symmes

    December 14, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    The U.S. Army vehicles referenced by Mr. Turner above, were actually National Guard vehicles. They had their motor pool and parking area adjacent to the Parker Bros. property until the nearby Armory was destroyed by fire and the unit moved to Danvers. I was in the Guard at Salem from 1963 to 1969. We had to walk from the Armory down the back streets to the garage to get the trucks. They were 2-1/2 ton cargo trucks, 3/4 ton utility trucks and jeeps. The garage had a complete repair facility.

  13. Jan

    February 1, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    Played monopoly with my sister for weeks. Loved it. You think I’d be great with money, economics, property…but alas, I’m more attuned to ouija!

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