The Board Game Craze (1890’s)


The Birth of the Game industry in America

The Great Wall Street Board GameBoard games have been played for thousands of years. A board game dated from 3500 B.C. to 4000 B.C., along with its ivory game pieces, was found in a Mesopotamian cemetery. We know that Egyptians played a board game called senet, the forerunner to modern backgammon games, on a board divided into squares with sticks used instead of dice. Senet was popular in Egypt around 3100 B.C. and in fact, a senet game set was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Fast forward five thousand years and by the mid 1800’s, board games began to appear in America with a game boom occurring in the 1890’s that birthed some of the greatest game companies in modern history.

With the industrialization and urbanization of the United States in the early 1800’s, the American middle class experienced an increase in leisure time. The home gradually lost its traditional role as the center of economic production and became the locus of leisure activities and education under the supervision of loving mothers. As a result of this increased leisure time, the demand increased for children’s board games.

Ancient Egyptian drawing depicting player playing board gameMost early American board games promoted religious or educational objectives through their game play. With increased leisure time filling more of the children’s available hours, parents felt the time would be better spent if the games influenced their children’s values in addition to teaching them how to reason and think. As a result, objectives in the children’s games were being good and doing the right thing while at the same time, promoting healthy competition. In addition to teaching children the spirit of competition, parents felt that the games helped their children learn how to get along with others, an important lesson during an age where families had begun migrating from the country to the new populous urban centers.

The Mansion of Happiness Board Game - 1843The first American board game was introduced in 1843 by the Salem, Massachusetts based W. and S.B. Ives Company. Inspired by Christian morality and beliefs, the Mansion of Happiness required players race about a sixty-six space spiral track depicted virtues and vices. The goal of the game was to reach The Mansion of Happiness at the track’s end with the lesson taught being that good deeds lead children down the path to “eternal happiness”.

Changing values result in new, exciting game themes

By 1850, board games were beginning to become more popular in the United States with many variants and game ideas introduced to the public by European immigrants. Games produced during this period were typically made by hand and hung on the walls of the homes as decoration when not in use. Milton Bradley and Parker Bros were early developers of games and introduced lithographed (printed) game boards to the public (although handmade boards remained very popular).

By the 1880’s, board game themes began to change to reflect the change in times. As travelling became more affordable, travelling games such as Around the World (1873) and Round the World with Nelly Bly (1890) appeared on the market. As social interests, capitalistic values, and materialism emerged as important American objectives, financial themes appeared in games such as Klondyke, based on the California gold rush theme. A historian of the era noted:

“By the 1880’s, wealth had emerged as the defining characteristic of success in American games, as in life.”

By the 1890’s, a board game explosion occurred with many immensely popular game crazes sprouting up and spreading throughout the country. With games costing between $.40 and $2.00, affordable games were brought into the majority of American homes.


Popular board games of the 1890’s

Round the World with Nellie Bly Board Game - 1890By the 1890’s, literally hundreds of games had been released to the market. A few stood out as being extremely popular, to the point of being “sensations” with the American public. Round the World with Nellie Bly was released in 1890 by the McLoughlin Brothers. The game was based on the 72-day around the world trip completed by 25-year-old Elizabeth Cochrane (also known as Nellie Bly) in 1889. Nellie Bly was a feminist reporter for the New York World who had become a media sensation with her proposed “around the world trip” which was based on the popular Jules Verne book, Around the World in 80 Days. In Round the World with Nellie Bly, game play was quite simple. Players spun a spinner and moved spaces on a game board with certain spaces sending you forward and other spaces sending you backward.

Round the World with Nellie Bly boardCarrom was also very popular during the 1890’s. Carrom, arguably originating in Bangladesh, Egypt, or Ethiopia, remains popular to this day in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Also known as “finger pool”, Carrom is played on a 29 by 29 inch polished wooden board. Discs, called carrom men, are flicked into one of four pockets located on corners of the wooden board, with pieces called strikers used to knock out the opponent’s carrom men. Powder is often sprinkled on the board to allow the carrom men to slide more easily.

One of the most popular (and highly collectible today) games was The Game of Bulls and Bears – The Great Wall Street Game. The Game of Bulls and Bears was introduced by McLoughlin Bros in 1883 and was based on the financial panic that occurred 10 years earlier. The Game of Bulls and Bears promised players that playing the game would make them feel like “speculators, bankers, and brokers”. Players, taking the role of speculators, bankers, and brokers, made bets on whether the prices of stocks and commodities would rise or fall. A spin of the spinner determined the result of the player’s bet. The game board itself was exquisitely designed. The board depicted fashionably dressed bulls and bears shearing penniless sheep (representing the general public). On the corners of the board were caricatures of ultra-rich railroad magnates William Henry Vanderbilt and Jay Gould along with notable successful investor Cyrus Field.

The Rival Policemen game, brought to market in 1896 by the McLoughlin Brothers, allowed players to represent rival police forces with the objective being to capture the greatest number of criminals roaming the city’s streets. The game theme was based on the intense rivalry that existed between New York City’s state police force and the city’s police force.

Tiddly Winks (Tiddlywinks) 1888 board gameTiddlywinks was introduced to England in 1888 and became one of the most popular crazes of the 1890’s in the United States. Sometimes called Tiddledy-Winks, the popularity of the game prompted competitors to introduce their own variants of the games with names like Spoof, Flippety Flop, Jupkins, Golfette, and Flutter. The game was played with small discs called “winks”, of different colors. There were six winks of each color – blue, green, red, or yellow. The winks were placed on the corners of a felt mat measuring six by three feet. Players used a larger, heavier disc, called a “squidger” to pop a wink into the air by pressing down on one side of the wink. The objective of the game was to get the wink to land on top of an opponent’s wink or inside of a small pot. After several years of popularity, the publics’ perception of the game changed and it was soon considered simple minded, frivolous, and a waste of time. The popular answer to the question “what are you doing?” became “playing Tiddlywinks” implying that the person was doing nothing or just wasting time.

Other popular games of the 1890’s included The Man in the Moon, introduced in 1901 by the McLoughlin Brothers and the Checkered Game of Life which was introduced by Milton Bradley in 1866 and themed to reward players for good deeds and punish the player for bad ones. The Game of Playing Department Store, first marketed in 1898 by the McLoughlin Brothers, allowed the player to spend money buying up the most goods in a department store. Other popular McLoughlin games of the era included War at Sea, Stars and Stripes, Home Baseball Game, Telegraph Boy, and Visit to Santa Claus.

The birth of modern day game companies

Milton Bradley's Checkered Game of Life - 1861The board game fad of the 1890’s resulted in the foundation of many of today’s modern game companies. Game maker Milton Bradley entered the market in 1861 with their Checkered Game of Life game (mentioned above). Selchow and Righter stunned the market with the introduction of their highly successful Scrabble game in 1867. Despite the success of Scrabble, Selchow and Righter went out of business and Milton Bradley acquired the rights to the Scrabble game.

Parker Bros were the third company to enter the market in 1883. George Parker, an avid game player, invented the popular Banker game when he was a teenager. In the Banker game, players borrowed money from a bank and then attempted to leverage their loans through speculation. Encouraged by his friends to publish the game, Parker approached two Boston book publishers and was promptly turned down. Rather than concede defeat, George Parker started the George S. Parker Company and used $40 of his own money to have 500 Banker game sets printed. By the end of 1883, all but two of the game sets were sold netting Parker a $100 profit. His brother Charles soon joined the company and the business was renamed Parker Brothers. By the late 1880’s, twenty nine games were invented and marketed by George Parker. George wrote all the rules to the games and designed the game board himself. Unusual for the time, Parker marketed their games in newspapers and magazines around the country and Parker Bros. quickly became one of the top game producers of the era.

Round the World board gameDespite Parker Bros innovative marketing techniques and inventive game designs, nobody ruled the game market during the late 1800’s like the McLoughlin Brothers. Scottish immigrant John McLoughlin founded a small print shop in 1828 in Brooklyn, New York. After a few decades in business, the company became popular lithographic printers of children’s books and toys. Par for the era, the company integrated religious topics into their products in an attempt to teach children proper behavior and religious beliefs. In 1848, John’s son, John Jr. Parker and younger brother Edmund Parker took over operations of the company and began to manufacture board games reflective of the popular themes of the time. Their games featured beautiful lithographic box covers and playing board with gorgeous artwork. Today the games are highly valued as collector items. Milton Bradley purchased the company in 1920 but retained the McLoughlin name for their book division until the 1940’s

A list of McLoughlin games created during their heyday includes:

1850s Bugle Horn or Robin Hood

1850s Golden Egg

1850 Yankee Pedlar or what do you buy

1855 Where’s Johnny

1870 Rabbit Hunt

1870 Old Maid Game

1875 Japanese Oracle Game

1875 John Gilpin Rainbow Backgammon

1875 Mother Hubbard

1875 Pilgrim’s Progress Going to Sunday School


1875 Hens an Chickens Game

1877 Ambuscade Constellations and Bounce

1878 Monopolist Mariners Compass

1880 Captive Princess

1880 HMS Pinafore

1881 Japanese Games of Cash and Akambo

1885 Cock Robin and his Tragical Death

1885 Zimmer Baseball Game

1886 District Messenger Boy Game

1886 Game of Baseball

1887 Donkey Party

1887 Elite Conversation Cards

1897 Fun at the Circus 575

1887 Grandmama’s Improved Arithmetical Game

1887 Grandmama’s Improved Geographical Game

1887 Grandmama’s Sunday Game Bible Questions

1887 House that Jack Built

1887 Cinderella or Hunt the Slipper

1887 Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

1888 Colors Game

1888 Fox and Geese New

Telegraph Boy board game - 18881888 Telegraph boy Game

1888 Captive Princess Tournament & Pathfinders

1888 Catching Mice Game

1888 Crusaders Game

1889 City Life Game

1889 Battles or Fun for boys

1889 Yuneek 7501890s Authors Game of Standard

1890 Christmas Goose

1890 Double Eagle Anagrams

1890 Navigator Boat Race

1890s Dr. Fusby Game

1890s Fish Pond New and Improved

1890s Four and Twenty Blackbirds

1890 India an oriental Game

1890 Letter Carrier

1890 Old Maid

1890s Parlor Football

Round the World with Nelly Bly board game1890 Round the World with Nellie Bly

1890s Snake Game

1890s Steeple Chase Improved Game

1890s Toll Gate Game

1890s Trunk Box Lotto Game

1890s Whirlpool Game

1890s Young Folks Historical Game

1890 Fish pond Game

1890 Farmer Jone’s Pigs

1890 Golden Locks and the Three Bears

1890 Guess Again Game

1890 Hare and Hound

1891 Errand Boy

1891 Fish Pond Game Magnetic

1891 Skirmish at Harper’s Ferry

1891 Strategy game

1891 Susceptibles

1891 Bicycle Race A Game for the Wheel men

1891 Hunting Hare Game

1892 Good Old Aunt

Parlor Baseball - 19031892 Parlor Baseball

1892 Royal Game of Queens and Kings

1892 Snap Game

1893 Uncle Sam’s Mail

1893 Heedless Tommy

1893 Kan-Oo Win It

1893 King Quiots New game

1893 Lost Heir Game

1895 Mansion of Happiness

1895 Lost in the Woods

1895 Mail Express

1894 Diamond Game of Baseball

1895 Mail Express

1895 Bugle Horn or Robin Hood

1895 Bo Peep Game

1895 Harlequin The Game

1895 Hide and Seek Game

1895 Yale Princeton Football Game

1896 College Boat Game

1896 Bulls and Bears

1896 Rival Policemen

1896 Golf Game

1896 Goosy Goosy Gander

1896 Lost Diamond Game

1896 Watermelon Patch Game

1897 Home Baseball Game

1897 Little Fireman Game

Game of Trip Round the World - 18971897 Trip Round the World

1898 Nations or Quaker Whist

1898 Day at the Circus

1898 Bobb Game of

1898 Cousin Peter’s Trip to New York

1898 Bombardment game

1898 Bagatelle Game

1898 Department Store Game

1898 Frog He a Wooing Go

1898 Jack and the Bean Stalk

1898 Old Maid and Old Bachelor The Merry Game

1899 Visit of Santa Claus

1899 Christmas Jewel Game

1899 Captive Princess

1899 Just Like Me Game

1899 Phoebe Snow Game

1899 Tobogganing at Christmas

1899 Topsy Turvy

1889 Which is it Speak quick or pay

1899 Wide Awake Game

1890 Yale Harvard Game

1900s Boys Own Football Game

1900 Improved Historical Cards

1900 Leap Frog Game

1900 Little Red Riding Hood

1900 Peter Coddle Improved Game

McLoughlin Bros Chiromagiva or Hand of Fate board game1901 Chiromagica or Hand of Fate

1901 Hand of Fate

1901 Man in the Moon

1902 Diamond Heart

1903 Bang Game of

1903 Comical Snap Game

1903 Fox and Geese

1904 Air Ship Game

1904 America’s Yacht Race

1904 Automobile Race

1904 Hunting the New Game

1904 District Messenger Boy Game

1904 Double Flag Game

1905 Naughty Molly

1905 Nosey Game

1905 Skit Scat

1905 Junior Combination Board

1909 Gypsy Fortune Telling Game

1912 Air Ship Game

1910s Boy Scouts

1910s Boy Scouts in Camp

1910 Leap Frog Game

1910 War of Worlds

1920 Naval Maneuvers

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