There have been countless attempts to bring the popular board game Monopoly to the big screen. Yet, despite the lack of success thus far, the game has a fascinating backstory. Delve into its history, and you’ll uncover tales of racial segregation, economic inequality, intellectual property theft, and even outlandish political theories. However, let’s begin with the game board itself—a map that tells a captivating story.
The Streets of Atlantic City
Monopoly boards exist not just for countries, but also for various movie and TV franchises, brand experiences, and even niche interests like bass fishing and chocolate. However, for true Monopoly enthusiasts, it’s the names of the streets on the classic board that hold a special authenticity. These names strike a chord not just with Monopoly players but also with those who have driven through Atlantic City, the slightly run-down seaside casino town in New Jersey.
In fact, all the street names on the board were taken from or inspired by the streets of Atlantic City, a city often referred to as “America’s Playground.” When you explore the city, it feels like you’re traveling on the very board itself, which is why it has earned the nickname “Monopoly City.”
Let’s take a closer look at how these streets come to life in Atlantic City.
Dark Purple: Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue
Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue are parallel streets located in the heart of Atlantic City, running from southwest to northeast. Unlike most other streets on the board, they cross or touch five different colors, adding a unique touch to the game.
Light Blue: Oriental Avenue, Vermont Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue
In the eastern part of town, you’ll find three avenues that inspired the light blue properties on the board. Oriental Avenue runs from southwest to northeast and intersects with Vermont and Connecticut Avenues, which run parallel to each other.
Light Purple: St. Charles Place, States Avenue, and Virginia Avenue
These three streets branch off from Pacific Avenue. Virginia Avenue stretches northwest, while St. Charles Place and States Avenue are shorter spurs towards the southeast. Notably, St. Charles Place has been replaced by the Showboat Atlantic City, a hotel-casino.
Orange: New York Avenue, Tennessee Avenue, and St. James Place
Running parallel to each other in a northwest to southeast direction, New York and Tennessee Avenues are accompanied by St. James Place, located south of Pacific Avenue.
Red: Indiana Avenue, Kentucky Avenue, and Illinois Avenue
These three streets are the westernmost part of the five street groups, running from northwest to southeast. In the 1980s, Illinois Avenue was renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Yellow: Atlantic Avenue, Ventnor Avenue, and Marvin Gardens
Atlantic Avenue, continuing west from O’Donnell Memorial Park, transforms into Ventnor Avenue and eventually leads to Ventnor City. Additionally, Marvin Gardens, which is actually spelled as Marven Gardens, is situated in Margate City.
Green: Pacific Avenue, North Carolina Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue
The opulent green streets of the Monopoly board are well-connected in more ways than one. Green is the only color that touches every other color on the board, adding to its allure.
Dark Blue: Park Place and Boardwalk
The grand Boardwalk, synonymous with beachfront luxury, is a prominent feature in Atlantic City. It’s no surprise that it is represented on the Monopoly board alongside the diminutive yet highly sought-after Park Place.
Discovering the Darker History of Monopoly
The selection of these street names was not arbitrary. In the early 1930s, various versions of Monopoly were played across the northeastern United States, with different street names inserted for each city. The game’s appearance and rules were refined as it was played. During this time, Jesse Railford, a realtor from Atlantic City, added a groundbreaking element to the game. He not only included names but also prices on the properties, reflecting the hierarchy of real estate values at the time.
However, this hierarchy and the prices assigned to the properties were influenced by the racial segregation prevalent in 1930s America. Atlantic City, known as a gateway for African-Americans during the Great Migration, was a city where they sought economic opportunities in the North. Unfortunately, they encountered racism along the way and upon arrival.
Railford played Monopoly with the Harveys, who lived on Pennsylvania Avenue—a street present on the Monopoly board. The Harveys had previously resided on Ventnor Avenue, and their friends lived on Park Place—both desirable locations on the board. However, during that era, these areas were exclusive to wealthy individuals and explicitly excluded Black residents. African-Americans often lived in low-cost areas such as Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues. The reality of the time was that many local hotels only welcomed African-Americans as workers, not as guests, while schools and beaches remained segregated.
Contrary to the binary prejudices of the era and the sliding price scale of the Monopoly board, Atlantic City was actually a place of opportunity where various communities thrived. Black businesses bloomed on Kentucky Avenue, Count Basie performed at the Paradise Club on Illinois Avenue, and a Black beach was located at the end of Indiana Avenue. For Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis, people flocked to Oriental Avenue, and New York Avenue boasted some of the first gay bars in the United States.
The Untold Story Behind Monopoly’s Origins
Although an Atlantic City-based version of the board game was sold to Parker Brothers by Charles Darrow, who claimed to have invented the game in his basement, the true origins of Monopoly trace back to a woman named Elizabeth J. Phillips, also known as Lizzie Magie (1866-1948).
Magie had a diverse range of talents and professions, including stenographer, typist, news reporter, poet, short story writer, comedian, actress, feminist, and inventor. She even patented an invention that made typewriting easier. However, she is primarily remembered today as the creator of Monopoly. Except, the original version of the game was called The Landlord’s Game. Magie patented it in 1904, with a revised version in 1924. The game’s circular pattern, unconventional at the time, was one of its innovative features. However, its true purpose was to convey economic, political, and fiscal messages.
The Landlord’s Game aimed to educate its players about the dangers of real estate monopolies and the benefits of a single tax on land. Magie believed in the ideas of Henry George, an economist who proposed that governments should derive their funding solely from taxing land and its natural resources, rather than imposing taxes on labor, trade, or sales. This concept, known as Georgism, gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
George’s ideas centered around the economic efficiency of a land tax, which places no burden on economic activity, and its potential to reduce property speculation and economic inequality. While Georgism is no longer a prominent force in politics today, its concepts still spark discussions, particularly in the field of emissions trading.
The Landlord’s Game featured two sets of rules: Prosperity, which promoted a cooperative approach to wealth creation, and Monopoly, which encouraged players to crush their opponents by creating monopolies. In the Monopoly version, owning all the streets of one color allowed players to charge double rent and build houses and hotels on their properties.
Interestingly, it was the competitive Monopoly version that gained popularity over the more cooperative Prosperity variant. However, Magie contested Darrow’s claim of being the game’s sole inventor. Unfortunately, her patent was ultimately bought out by Parker Brothers for a mere $500, without any ongoing earnings. The company continued to credit Darrow as the sole inventor of the game, and it wasn’t until years later that Magie’s contributions were recognized.
For more in-depth exploration of the connection between Monopoly, Atlantic City geography, and 1930s segregation, check out Mary Pilon’s article in The Atlantic and her book, “The Monopolists.”
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more intriguing stories and strange maps.
Strange Maps #1078
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This article was inspired by the original content found on Capturing Fantasy.