The Monopolization of Monopoly
Louis & Fred Thun

by Burton H. Wolfe
©1976 The San Francisco Bay Guardian

While making various deals, Parker Brothers also tried to buy up original Monopoly game boards in efforts to prevent anyone from learning about them. One of president Barton's earliest house calls with that purpose was to Louis Thun, the onetime DKE frat brother of Dan Layman.

According to Thun, in his Anti-Monopoly lawsuit deposition, he first played Monoply as a prep school student in 1925. He and his brother Fred, and the friends with whom they played the game, revised it to simulate monopolistic conditions in real life, adding maneuvers based on combinations, trusts and pools. Using a small printing press they owned, they made play money, and "Chance" and "Community Chest" and other cards. Eventually they drew up some rules that began with this preface:

"Statement of General Theory - Monopoly is designed to show the evil resulting from the institution of private property. At the start of the game every player is provided with the same amount of capital and presumably has exactly the same chance of success as every other player. The game ends with one person in possession of all the money. What accounts for the failure of the rest, and what one factor can be singled out to explain the obviously ill-adjusted distributions of the community's wealth which this situation represents? Those who win will answer 'skill.' Those who lose will answer 'luck.' But maybe there will be some, and these, while admitting the elements of skill and luck, will answer with Scott Nearing 'private property'."

Various comments in the Thun's typewritten rules revealed brainfuls about their acerbic views toward American society:

"Ownership of a series entitles one to collect double rent on all the properties of that series... Graduation in the cost of houses is analagous to zoning laws in most modern communities. It serves to equalize inequalities in the different properties... Owning one railroad nets $10 a ride, two $25... until owning all four nets $150 a ride. Since there are four railroads to land on, the income yielded to the owner of all four is tremendous... Any one alighting on Community Chest should draw one of the blue cards which will inform how much he is privileged to give to charity... By paying $50 into the bank one may leave the jail the first time his turn comes around again..."

It is amazing to read these attitudes of the Thuns when you know they were members of one of the wealthiest families in the Reading, Pa., area and moved primarily among the elite who lived in their suburban community of Wyomissing. They had no social contacts with the poor, uneducated classes; such people were merely their servants.

In 1931 the Thuns decided to patent and sell Monopoly. A letter to them from patent counselor Walter G. Stewart, dated March 17, 1931, states that Stewart "would be glad to take part in the expense of pushing it commercially" because it seemed to him to "impress upon the player what produces land values and how they are allowed to speculatively go from the producer (the public) to individuals." [I can't resist inserting myself here for a remark. Can you imagine any patent counselor in today's self-oriented, greed-stricken society being motivated by such considerations or even talking in such terms? - B.H.W.] But after Stewart's brother Donald completed basic research, he discovered Lizzie Magie's patent and advised the Thuns there would be no way for anybody to protect the game. "Patents are for inventors and you didn't invent it," Donald Stewart said.

There was nothing to prevent the Thuns from copyrighting their rules, however, so they did that, made some sets, sold them to friends for $20 each, then tried selling Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores with no luck, and gave up.

Five years later, in the spring of 1935, Parker Brothers president Robert Barton paid a house call on Louis Thun. By this time Thun had begun his lifetime career in his family's Textile Machine Works, of which he eventually served as board chairman until its merger with Rockwell International. Thun told Barton the whole history of Monopoly, he testified in his Anti-Monopoly lawsuit deposition.

"I told him it wasn't at all clear to me how Mr. Darrow could be the inventor of a game... we'd played since 1925," Thun testified. "I said I was in the machine business and he was in the game business, and I was going to leave it at that."

Just to be sure, Barton offered Thun $50 each for any Monopoly boards he had left. Thun sold his several remaining boards to Barton.