12.12.14
John Foster | Accidental Mysteries

Advance Two Spaces

Board games have long been a part of our rich American culture. Since the early nineteenth century, board games have been a popular pastime of chance and skill. Many game boards were handmade for individual families, painted and designed to replicate games people remembered but could not find in stores. 

But the first mass-produced American board game was called The Mansion of Happiness: An Instructive Moral and Entertaining Amusement and was presented to the public in 1843 by W. & S. B. Ives. Mansion of Happiness was a sixty-six-space game designed for children with a mission to teach them “good morals,” as landing on a “vice” would set you back several spaces. Throughout the century, the McLoughlin Brothers was the biggest creator and manufacturing firm of board games, catering to children as well as adults looking for an hour of so of fun. By the mid- to late 1800s, McLoughlin Bros. would branch out to create a wide range of leisure products, including large lithographed picture books, puzzles, inexpensive chapbooks, and paper dolls. By 1920 the company had been purchased by rival Milton-Bradley.

While every generation has their own board game favorites, most of us today remember games like Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Chutes and Ladders, and Candyland, to name just a few. Sadly, traditional board games are seeing a rather serious decline today, replaced by interactive digital games played on tablets and smartphones. It's a trend that is not going away, as new video games continue to get more sophisticated with each new toy season. The examples below exhibit a different kind of skill—perhaps a more artfully analogue one—than their digital competitors today.


This is a handmade and painted Parchesi game board; American, anonymous maker, nineteenth century


The first mass produced board game, Mansion of Happiness (1843)


Tight Rope (1870) 


Captive Princess board game (1870)


Life's Mishaps board game (1875)


Great Artists board game (1875)


Grandma’s Arithmetical Game (1887)


Puss in the Corner board game (1888)


Leap Frog board game (1890s)


Uncle Wiggily board game (1900)


Pirate and Traveler board game (1911)


Journey to Bethlehem board game (1923)


Camelot board game (1930)

Jack and Jill board game (1938)


Images 4–14 courtesy Jenny Kite 




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