The Milton Bradley corporation produced some of the most memorable family-friendly board games in history, like Operation, Candy Land, and Chutes and Ladders, before being purchased by Hasbro. Their games aren't as innocent and carefree as everyone believes, though; they have weird histories. In fact, there are strange stories behind many children’s games.
The Bradley company was actually established during the Civil War and heavily influenced by Abraham Lincoln. After enduring that history-changing conflict, the Great Depression, and both World Wars, it's unsurprising that the company's colorful products have darker undertones. You can solve these games easily, but they're more complicated than most people think.
In 1946, San Diego schoolteacher Eleanor Abbott created Candy Land for children suffering from polio. The board was made very colorful and imaginative because it served as a diversion for bedridden, severely ill children. Abbott later sold the game to Milton Bradley. When it was released by the corporation in 1949, it sold for $1.
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Miniature Games Entertained Soldiers During The Civil War
During the Civil War, soldiers were often left for long periods of time with few opportunities for amusement. Milton Bradley helped alleviate that problem by producing miniature versions of chess, checkers, and other games. The travel-size versions were sent to the Union soldiers. In fact, Bradley's creation, the Checkered Game of Life, became the country's first travel-size game.
Twister may seem like an innocent game; it's even been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame as of 2015. The interactive experience used to be considered quite risque, though. In 1966, the game was deemed too inappropriate for the Sears catalog. Critics even called Twister “sex in a box.” Due to the backlash, Milton Bradley halted production.
Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor played Twister on The Tonight Show later that year, revitalizing the game's image. About three million editions sold in 1967.
John Spinello created the prototype for Operation as a school project in 1964. He received top marks on the assignment, then sold the rights to the Milton Bradley corporation for $500. After inflation, that amount is worth less than $4,000. Operation has since earned about $40 million. Tragically, in 2014, Spinello couldn't afford his own surgeries; he didn't have health care. The original Operation creator crowd-sourced to raise money, even selling his prototype.
The Game of Life used to be very different. Created in 1860, it was originally called the Checkered Game of Life, and was used to teach morality. There were positive squares (Honesty, Bravery, Success) and negative square (Poverty, Idleness, Disgrace). A player's goal was “to gain on his journey that which shall make him the most prosperous, and to shun that which will retard him in his progress.”
There was also a suicide square. Players who landed on it automatically lost. The rules stated, “Whoever moves to Suicide is thrown out of the game.” It wasn't until 1960 that the game had a makeover, opting for squares about jury duty and adoption instead of morality lessons.
The Great Depression marked a period of extreme financial distress for many people, and it lasted from 1929 to 1939. The Milton Bradley corporation tried to profit from the economic hardship, though, by releasing Easy Money in 1935. It was a lot like the Parker Brothers' Monopoly, but there were some very minor differences. Players started with $2,000 instead of $1,500, and were given $250 for circling the board instead of the usual $200.
Interestingly, Monopoly took inspiration from an even older creation - the Landlord's Game - which was produced by Elizabeth Magie to condemn people who hoarded wealth.