A Brief History of the Ouija Board

As a method of supposed communication with the spirit world, the Ouija board has terrified countless slumber partying children and served as a plot vehicle in a number of Hollywood films. Here’s where it came from.

Spiritualism and Pre-Ouija Methods

Ouija boards have their roots in Spiritualism, which began in the United States in the late 1840s. (Claims that ancient Ouija boards existed are unfounded.) The new movement was led by mediums, who claimed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead.

There were a number of ways mediums made followers believe that they were communicating messages from those who had passed. One, table turning, involved the table moving or knocking on the floor in response to letters called out from the alphabet. Another method used planchettes, heart-shaped devices with two wheels at one end and a pencil at the point; users would place their fingers on the device, which would then be guided by spirits who would “write” messages.

Both methods were problematic. Table turning took too long, and planchette writing was hard to decipher. According to the Museum of Talking Boards, some mediums got rid of these methods altogether, preferring to channel while in a trance, while others built complicated tables, dials, and tables painted with letters that required people to use a planchette as a pointer. This method became the most popular—and paved the way for the Ouija board.

Rise of The Talking Board

In 1886, the New York Daily Tribune reported on a new talking board being used in Ohio. It was 18 by 20 inches and featured the alphabet, numbers, and the words yes, no, good evening, and goodnight; the only other necessary object was a “little table three or four inches high … with four legs” that the spirits could use to identify letters. The brilliance of the board was that anyone could make it—the tools suggested in the article are “a jack-knife and a marking brush."

Operating the board was similarly easy:

You take the board in your lap, another person sitting down with you. You each grasp the little table with the thumb and forefinger at each corner next to you. Then the question is asked, ‘Are there any communications?’ Pretty soon you think the other person is pushing the table. He thinks you are doing the same. But the table moves around to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Then you go on asking questions and the answers are spelled out by the legs on the table resting on the letters one after the other.

(Of course, any messages generated probably weren't from spirits; instead, they were likely a result of the Ideomotor effect. This psychological phenomenon was first described in 1852 by William Benjamin Carpenter who, in a scientific paper analyzing how talking boards worked, theorized that muscular movement can be independent of conscious desires.)

Ouija: The Game

These types of talking boards became very popular, and in 1890, Elijah Bond, Charles Kennard and William H.A. Maupin had the idea to turn the board into a toy. They filed the first patent for a game they called the Ouija board, which looked and operated much like the talking boards in Ohio; the patent was granted in 1891. The name, according to Kennard, came from using the board, and was an ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck.” The Kennard Novelty Company manufactured the boards, which were made of five pieces of wood across the face braced by two vertical slats on the back; they retailed for $1.50.

Kennard left the company in 1891, and the Kennard Novelty Company became the Ouija Novelty Company. William Fuld, an employee there, eventually took over production of the boards; in 1901, he began making his own boards under the name Ouija, which Fuld said came from a combination of the French and German words for “yes”—the etymology that is accepted today.

Fuld would go on to design many different versions of the board (he holds more Ouija patents and copyrights than anyone else in history—a grand total of 21 registrations in three countries—including the design for the modern planchette). Because of the board’s huge success, a number of competitors tried their hands at creating their own Ouija-like devices. Fuld sued many of those copycats, right up until his death in 1927.

In 1966, Fuld’s estate sold the family business—which included more than just Ouija boards—to Parker Brothers, which manufactured the modern boards as we know them today. In 1991, Parker Brothers was sold to Hasbro, which now holds all the Ouija rights and patents (and might even make a movie based on the game).

10 Splendid Gifts for Royal Family Fanatics

Funko/Amazon
Funko/Amazon

Between the never-ending publicity surrounding Meghan Markle and the long-awaited third season of The Crown on Netflix, Americans seem to be tuning into the intimate goings-on of England’s most famous family now more than ever. From corgi-covered socks to a Kate Middleton fashion coloring book, here are 10 brilliant products to help you showcase your passion for all things royal.

1. Royal Windsor Monopoly; $56

windsor castle monopoly
Winning Moves Games/Amazon

Forget Baltic Avenue and Marvin Gardens—take your tiny top hat on a tour of the Windsor grounds, from St. George’s Chapel to Eton College. This edition of Elizabeth Magie’s classic board game still has many opportunities for taxes, bankruptcy, and jail, but with an undeniable air of sophistication.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Corgi Socks; $7

corgi socks
Hot Sox

Celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s long-standing love for corgis by sporting some of the smiling puppers on your very own two feet.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Princess Diana Funko POP! Doll; $9

princess diana funko pop doll
Funko/Amazon

While you’re waiting to see Emma Corrin portray Princess Diana in season four of The Crown, treat your toy shelf to a Funko Diana doll, clad in her iconic black gown. There are more royal Funkos, too, like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Twinings Earl Grey Tea; $9

twinings earl grey tea
Twinings/Amazon

Twinings has been the official tea supplier of the Royal Household since the 19th century, and according to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the Queen likes Earl Grey the best. If you really want to mirror the monarch’s preferences, add a splash of milk—but skip the sugar.

Buy It: Amazon

5. Royally British Mug; $16

royally british mug
Victoria Eggs/Amazon

What better way to sip the Queen’s favorite tea than from a teacup bearing symbols of her kingdom? Not only is this 12-ounce bone china mug hand-illustrated with Balmoral Castle, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace, it also features all of the UK’s national flowers: England’s rose, Wales’s daffodil, Scotland’s thistle, and Northern Ireland’s shamrock.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Kate Middleton Royal Fashions Coloring Book; $4

kate middleton fashion coloring book
E.R. Miller Designs

Kate Middleton manages to stick to the many royal family fashion rules while still stepping out in some impressively voguish ensembles. Add your own polychromatic flair to her most memorable looks in this coloring book, with special appearances by Prince William and more.

Buy It: Amazon

7. How to Speak Brit; $16

how to speak brit book
Avery/Amazon

Though the royal family doesn’t likely deign to speak the slang of the masses, How to Speak Brit also contains plenty of posh phrases, along with explanations of how they came to be. This dictionary-slash-cultural-study is handy for anyone who watches Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, or any other British television series or film.

Buy It: Amazon

8. LEGO Buckingham Palace Set; $72

lego buckingham palace set
LEGO/Amazon

This 780-piece buildable version of Queen Elizabeth II’s primary residence includes a double-decker bus, black cab, and the Victoria Memorial. It also comes with a booklet on the design, architecture, and history of Buckingham Palace.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Royal Carriage Jewelry Box; $17

qifu royal carriage jewelry box
Qifu/Amazon

We can’t all roll up to special events in a gold-embellished stagecoach, but we can store our jewelry in one. The Fabergé egg-inspired design of this carriage makes it a perfect mantelpiece decoration, too.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Buckingham Palace Jigsaw Puzzle; $30

buckingham palace jigsaw puzzle
Gibsons/Amazon

This 1000-piece puzzle depicts the scene at Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s birthday celebration. In the image, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are trotting off to Horse Guard's Parade for Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s annual inspection of the military.

Buy It: Amazon

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