For generations, Monopoly has been America’s favorite board game, a love letter to unbridled capitalism and — for better or worse — the impulses that make our free-market society tick. But behind the myth of the game’s creation is an untold tale of theft, obsession and corporate double-dealing. Part detective story, part sharp social commentary and part pop-culture celebration, Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History presents the fascinating true story behind America’s favorite game. Contrary to the folksy legend spread by Parker Brothers, Monopoly’s secret history is a surprising saga that features a radical feminist, Lizzie Magie. a community of Quakers in Atlantic City, America’s greatest game company, and an unemployed Depression-era engineer. According to the official origin story, during the Great Depression, an amateur inventor named Charles Darrow sketched out the now-famous Monopoly board on a piece of oilcloth on his kitchen table. His game became a best-seller, Darrow became a wealthy man, and Parker Brothers was saved from bankruptcy. It was a classic American success story. But it wasn’t true. The real story behind the creation of the game might never have come to light if it weren’t for the determination of an economics professor and impassioned anti-monopolist named Ralph Anspach. Director and writer Stephen Ives joins us to talk about his own journey to unlock the vault of obfuscation and corporate greed regarding the forgotten history of this distinctively American rite of passage / iconic board game.
Written and directed by Stephen Ives and executive produced by Cameo George, Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History premieres on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on Monday, February 20, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS App.