The Story Behind MONOPOLY Pieces

monopoly-history

While many board games use colorful little pegs as markers, MONOPOLY, the game with the unique power to unite and divide a family in the matter of an hour, has those odd tokens you’re no doubt familiar with. You’ve probably played more than a few games with the little racecar or thimble but never stopped to think, “Why the hell am I a thimble?”

From Random Junk to Iconic Pieces
When MONOPOLY was first concocted, the game’s inventor (although whether he stole the idea is highly disputed and probably true), Charles Darrow, envisioned players using small items from around their homes as playing pieces. Your sister could have been a button and you could have been a bottle cap or a lighter, for instance. It was at the suggestion of Darrow’s niece that the pieces be charms from a girl’s charm bracelet. If Darrow didn’t give her a sizable paycheck for that advice, well, that’s a damn shame because she was really the genius behind perhaps the most iconic part of the most iconic board game ever created.

Since the game was introduced in the 1930’s, pieces have come and gone. Some have stuck around since the beginning, others have been given the boot, and one was just added earlier this year. Of course, if you are buying special editions, you may have encountered a few obscurities. For standard MONOPOLY players though, here’s the story behind each piece.



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Top-Hat

Top Hat

Often considered the most recognizable icon of the game, the top hat is also one of the original pieces created in 1935. The token was based on the hat the game’s lead character, Mr. MONOPOLY, would wear. Of course, when the game was introduced, he was known as Rich Uncle Pennybags, and many have speculated the character was based on J.P. Morgan.

Thimble

Thimble

The piece of choice for reigning US MONOPOLY champion, Richard Marinaccio, the thimble is another of the original pieces from 1935. Much like the top hat and shoe, the thimble has appeared in most versions of the game that have been released.

Iron-2

Iron (Recently Retired)

Earlier this year, fans of MONOPOLY voted on a new token to add to the game. They also voted on which piece it would replace. With only 8% of the vote, the iron was the low man on the totem pole. Perhaps saddest to see it go is MONOPOLY World Champion, Bjorn Halvard Knappskog, who used the piece in his last championship match. The iron should have seen the writing on the wall, it was the second least popular piece in a 1998 vote.

Shoe

Shoe

Around since the beginning, the shoe is modeled after the practical work shoe of the 30’s. Instead of changing its design with the times, the Shoe has remained the same and is a symbol of both hard work and the riches that can come along with it.

Ship

Battleship

The die-cast metal battleship token is actually somewhat of a game piece celebrity. The piece was originally used by Parker Brothers in a game called “Conflict.” When that game failed it was easy enough for the company to take the pieces and use them in MONOPOLY. Since then, it has also been used in the game “Diplomacy” as well.

Cannon

Cannon (Retired)

Often called the cannon even though rumor is the piece was supposed to be called the howitzer, this piece is closely tied to the battleship. The cannon was also used in “Conflict” and tossed in with MONOPOLY as that game failed. In 1946 it changed from its original design to the more recent long cannon style. Unlike most pieces, the cannon was simply dropped from the lineup without any kind of fan vote or campaign.



added-later-35

Racecar

Racecar

The car was added just a touch earlier than the other pieces in this section, appearing as the seventh token. The racecar steals its sharp looks from a 1930’s roadster. The original idea was to design the car token based on the car Mr. MONOPOLY would drive around. It’s undergone a few variation changes through time and sported a “3” on its side until sometime in the 1960’s.

Purse

Purse (Retired)

The purse became the eighth playing piece to join the MONOPOLY family, and it has a bit of an odd history. It appeared and disappeared from sets beginning in 1935/1936 until it was finally retired in the early 50’s. Early on, the game pushed the limits expanding to 10 tokens (the purse being one of them) and then scaled back and continued to oscillate this way for years. The purse seemed to be thusly added and removed as these changes occurred. Photo Source

Rocking-Horse2

Rocking Horse (Retired)

The rocking horse is one of the more hard to find pieces nowadays. It was only around from the 30’s to the 50’s and it didn’t appear in many editions of the game during that time. Photo Source

Lantern

Lantern (Retired)

The lantern is tied at the hip with the rocking horse. Both were added at the same time and removed in the 50’s when the Scottie dog, the wheelbarrow, and the horse and rider were added. Photo Source



new-50s

Dog

Scottie Dog

One of three new tokens added in the 1950’s, the Scottie Dog became Mr. MONOPOLY’s right hand-man/pup. The token has become the most loved of all the pieces and received the most votes to keep it during the recent ousting of the Iron (29% of the vote to be precise).

Wheelbarrow

Wheelbarrow

Introduced in the 1950’s wave of token change, the wheelbarrow was one of the pieces that replaced the lantern, purse, and rocking horse. The wheelbarrow was included as an emblem of hard work and one of the prime tools needed to build the properties around the board. It barely survived the recent vote and is clearly not the most popular piece ever as it placed dead last in the vote in 1998.

Horse-Rider

Horse & Rider (Retired)

The horse & rider became a staple piece beginning in the early 50’s until it met a similar fate as the cannon (being removed without much fanfare).



99present

Sack-of-Money

Sack of Money

The sack of money became the first new token added in over 40 years in 1999. It beat out the piggy bank (20% of the vote) and the bi-plane (29% of the vote) in a vote Hasbro ran to join the elite ranks by securing 51% of the vote of 1.5 million people. Unfortunately for the sack of money, it was retired less than a decade after it was introduced.

Cat

Cat

The winner of the vote earlier this year, the cat is the newest piece you’ll find if you purchase a new set. The cat defeated the diamond ring, a guitar, a toy robot, and the helicopter to find itself among the lot.

rejected-monopoly-pieces



Top image by All Vintage Man



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  • Tobi

    It’s hard to imagine that the original tokens chosen in the 1930s (a politically highly charged era) were not intended to be political in nature: the immaculate top hat representing the industrialist and/or banker, the thimble representing the female garment worker slaving away in the urban factories, the iron representing the rural female homeworker, the lace-less and worn out shoe representing the male worker forced into vagabondage during the Great Depression, the battleship perhaps representing the latest modern mean of imperial force (of–choose here–the British, Americans, Japanese, Germans etc.), and the howitzer representing World War I where they were used in steep angles as shown here to shoot projectiles into the trenches in a steep curve.

    While the last too don’t really fit, the former four–pretty clearly to me–seem to be political symbols (esp. the shoe, that could have just as much been designed to be intact and with laces but is worn-out, without laces or even tongue, instead).

    Thanks for the list, you guys! It’s nice to seeat the history of a cultural artifact so popular! However, the statement “the Shoe… is a symbol of both hard work and the riches that can come along with it” may be nearly as funny (I’m being diplomatic here) and empty of truth today as it had been in the 30s. Certainly for the industrial worker.

  • Chum-Bucket

    The stupid cat represents the internets insatiable love for cats in this decade.

  • http://www.angusmckinnon.com angusmckinnon

    Thanks. I came here looking for the type of car it was and the rest was a bonus :)