Founded in 1860, Milton Bradley was one of the most famous, and longest running, board game companies in the world. Now a branch of Hasbro, the prolific company released classic games like Twister, Connect Four, and The Game of Life, as well as plenty of board games you've probably forgotten. Here are 14 facts about the Milton Bradley Company to break out at your next board game night.
1. THE COMPANY MIGHT NEVER HAVE BEEN FOUNDED IF LINCOLN HADN'T GROWN A BEARD.
Before lithographer Milton Bradley launched his board game company, his most successful work was a portrait he’d drawn of a clean-shaven Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln grew his beard, Bradley’s illustration was no longer in demand, and his profits took a nose dive. To save his business, Bradley started making board games.
2. THE COMPANY'S FIRST GAME WAS THE CHECKERED GAME OF LIFE.
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Bradley’s first game had a strong moralizing purpose: Landing on negative squares like “crime” and “idleness” would move players back in “life,” while positive squares like “honesty” and “bravery” would move them towards “happy old age.” To this day, an updated version of the game remains popular, though its title has been shortened, and its format changed a bit (“gambling” and “intemperance” will no longer set you back a square).
3. BRADLEY INSISTED ON GIVING AWAY FREE SCHOOL SUPPLIES—AGAINST THE WISHES OF HIS BUSINESS PARTNERS.
Starting in 1869, company founder Milton Bradley began producing and distributing free supplies (including paints, papers, and geometric toys) to kindergartens in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the company was located. Initially, his business partners went along with the idea, but when a recession hit in the 1870s, they demanded Bradley cease his charitable work. Bradley, a staunch advocate for the “kindergarten movement,” which encouraged early childhood education through creative play, refused. Instead, his friend George Tapley bought out his partners’ interests, and together, the two continued to supply Springfield kindergartens with a range of educational toys.
4. THE FIRST TRAVEL-SIZED GAMES WERE MADE FOR BORED SOLDIERS DURING THE CIVIL WAR.
When the Civil War broke out, Milton Bradley briefly considered building weapons for the Union soldiers. But when Bradley visited the front lines and saw bored soldiers sitting around with nothing to do, he decided, instead, to give them the gift of games. Milton Bradley’s miniature versions of The Checkered Game of Life, distributed to soldiers during the Civil War, were the first mass produced travel-sized games ever made.
5. DURING WORLD WAR II, THE COMPANY BUILT PARTS FOR FIGHTER PLANES.
By the time World War II hit, the Milton Bradley Company was close to bankruptcy. Though they’d continued to make games through the Great Depression (including a 1935 game wistfully titled Easy Money), they hadn’t sold well enough to keep the company solvent. To save the company and help with the war effort, Milton Bradley stopped production of most of its board games, and began building gun stocks and universal joints for the landing gears of fighter jets. They also made small game kits for soldiers.
6. CANDY LAND WAS CREATED BY A POLIO PATIENT IN 1949.
Released by Milton Bradley in 1949, Candy Land was the creation of a retired schoolteacher named Eleanor Abbott, who dreamed up the game while she was recovering from polio in a San Diego hospital. Abbott wanted to create a fun fantasy world to distract the youngest polio patients at the hospital from their disease, so she created a simple game full of bright colors and sweet characters. While the kids at the hospital were the first people to try out the board game, it went on to be one of the best-selling board games of all time after Abbott sold it to Milton Bradley.
7. CRITICS ACCUSED TWISTER OF BEING “SEX IN A BOX.”
When Twister was released in 1965, Milton Bradley tried to market it as an innocent party game that could be played by the whole family. But the company’s competitors, apparently scandalized by the physical closeness it facilitated between members of the opposite sex, accused it of being “sex in a box.”
8. CHUTES AND LADDERS WAS INSPIRED BY A 13TH-CENTURY INDIAN GAME.
The original Indian version of the game, called Mokshapat and, later, Snakes and Ladders, was designed to teach Hindu values. Landing on snakes, representing different temptations, would send players back a few squares, where they’d metaphorically be re-born as a lower form of life.
9. THEY RELEASED THE FIRST HANDHELD CARTRIDGE VIDEO CONSOLE IN 1979.
A decade before Nintendo revolutionized handheld video gaming with the Game Boy, Milton Bradley released the Macrovision—the first handheld video game device with interchangeable cartridges. The company sold a range of games for the device, with basic sports simulations like Bowling and Baseball, as well as an adaptation of their hit board game Connect Four.
10. CONNECT FOUR HAS BEEN SOLVED.
Created by a toy inventor named Howard Wexler, Connect Four was released by Milton Bradley in 1974. Fourteen years later, in 1988, a computer programmer named James Allen announced he’d solved the game. Allen figured out that the first player in any game can always win if they place their first piece in the board’s middle slot, and play perfectly throughout the rest of the game. But that doesn’t mean you should give up playing Connect Four: Playing a perfect game is still pretty complicated stuff, as the above video demonstrates.
11. THE INVENTOR OF OPERATION SOLD THE GAME TO MILTON BRADLEY FOR JUST $500.
was invented by an industrial design student at the University of Illinois named John Spinello in 1964. Spinello developed the game as part of a school project, for which he got an 'A.' A family friend got him a meeting with Milton Bradley executives, who offered him $500 for it on the spot.
12. THE COMPANY RELEASED A DONALD TRUMP BOARD GAME IN 1988.
Called Trump: The Game, the board game's slogan was, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you win!" Though the game, which included purchasing real estate with colorful paper money, looked suspiciously like a re-worked Monopoly, the back of the box promised, "Trump. It's like no other game you've ever played."
13. THEY'VE MADE GAMES BASED ON TV SHOWS, MOVIES, AND EVEN VIDEO GAMES.
Milton Bradley has released board games based on everything from Pac-Man to Family Feud. A few of their more surprising adaptations have included the detective show Columbo, the movie Jumanji (which features a board game that sucks players into another dimension), and a huge range of Disney movies.
14. THE COMPANY WAS PURCHASED BY HASBRO IN 1984.
The company is now considered a Hasbro brand. However, through the 1980s and '90s, they continued to produce new games under their own management, using their own facilities. Nowadays, Milton Bradley primarily manufactures its greatest hits from last century, including Candy Land, Operation, and Twister.