By David Kelly:
Games. We all play them. Before phone games, computer games and video games, the world played board games, card games and action games. While old Atari game consoles are pretty cool looking, most of the games are not that fun to play. Sure, many board games are not that exciting either, but there’s a reason Monopoly and Life have been best sellers for nearly 100 years.
While I do enjoy playing board games, what I love most about the old games are the graphics on the boxes and boards. The hand drawn artwork on the games from the 1940s-1970s keeps me buying them, long after I’ve run out of room to store them. A big part of the attraction comes from the nostalgia of everything I loved as a kid – cartoons, monsters, cars, popular movies, etc. If a TV show or movie was popular, Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Ideal or Transogram made a game out of it.
Where did this all start? Board games date back as far as 3000 BC, but the modern US game industry began in the mid 1800s. It started with a man named Milton Bradley in Springfield, Massachusetts, who introduced The Checkered Game of Life in 1860. This early version of The Game of Life, (or Life), sold well and established The Milton Bradley Company as the first big game maker. They bought the larger McGloughlin Bros. Inc in 1920 and Selchow and Righter, makers of Parcheesi and Scrabble, in 1987. Milton Bradley, in turn, was purchased by Hasbro in 1984, but continue to be operated as Milton Bradley. Their best loved games are Twister, Battleship, Connect Four and Hungry Hungry Hippos, along with hundreds of TV & movie titles.
The next largest and oldest game maker is Parker Brothers. Started in Salem, Massachusetts in 1883, they had several good-selling games that were based on important events of the day, such as Klondike, a game based on the Alaskan Gold Rush. But it was Monopoly, released during the Great Depression, that put Parker Brothers in the big leagues. The other Parker Bros. games you probably had in your closet are: Clue, Sorry, Aggravation and the Ouija Board, along with all the TV and movie titles that Milton Bradley didn’t get. They also launched the hugely successful Nerf family of toys in 1969. Parker Bros. was purchased by General Mills, (a cereal company!?) in 1968, then sold to Tonka in 1987 and finally to Hasbro in 1991.
Hasbro, who is now king of games and toys, was also started by brothers, the Hassenfeld Brothers (Has-Bro), in Providence, Rhode Island in 1926. They started with pencils and school supplies. By 1942, they were in the toy business, and in 1952 they unleashed Mr. Potato Head on the world. In 1964, Hasbro introduced GI Joe and created the term Action Figure in order to market the toy to boys who wouldn’t want to play with “dolls.” These two toy lines helped Hasbro become an industry giant and they began to buy up companies to increase their market reach. Along with Milton Bradley and Parker Bros, they own Playskool, Tonka and Wizards of The Coast. They passed Mattel as the largest toy and game manufacturer in the mid 1980s
Other large game and toy manufacturers of the 1940s-1970s that made great looking game boxes and boards were Ideal and Transogram.
Ideal, who actually invented the Teddy Bear in 1902, also brought us the enduring favorites – Mouse Trap, Ker-Plunk, Let’s Make A Deal, Tic-Tac-Dough and the Hollywood Squares games, as well as The Magic 8 Ball and Rubik’s Cube. They had contracts to produce toys and games for Batman, Howdy Doody, Evel Knievel, Flintstones, Dukes of Hazzard, Pac-Man, King Kong and Disney. Bought by Mattel, the Ideal brand is gone, but some of its products are still sold by Mattel.
Transogram was established in 1915. Most famous for Tiddley Winks and The Green Ghost Game, they did manage to secure a few big TV show and movie game contracts. They produced the Jonny Quest, The Monkees, Mad (magazine), Perry Mason, Yogi Bear, Popeye, Rin Tin Tin, Dragnet and Gomer Pyle games.
So many games, so many choices. Hit the thrift store and pick up an old board game to play with your friends or family. Make sure to check for all the pieces!
For more photos of A-frames & vintage stuff & signage, please check out: instagram.com/dkcomet