, Salem, MA

February 9, 2013

Change in Monopoly tokens stirs memories

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — Thousands upon thousands of Monopoly game tokens were manufactured in Salem while the Parker Brothers’ Bridge Street factory hummed with activity.

This week, it was announced that one of those tokens, the iron, will be retired and replaced with a cat.

The change was decided in a fan contest on The results were announced Wednesday after the shoe, wheelbarrow and iron were neck and neck for elimination in the final hours of voting. The cat won favor over a robot, diamond ring, helicopter and guitar tokens.

“It’s always bittersweet to see an element of tradition disappear,” said Phil Orbanes, the former senior vice president of research and development and in-house Monopoly expert at Parker Brothers. “It also sends a signal that Monopoly is as vibrant today as it was in 1935 when it became a nationwide hit.”

Monopoly has close ties to the North Shore. Generations worked for Parker Brothers at their factory in Salem — now the site of the Jefferson at Salem Station condominiums — and later at their corporate headquarters in Beverly.

The Salem factory closed and was torn down in 1994. Monopoly is now owned and manufactured by Rhode Island-based Hasbro Inc.

A group of former Parker Brothers employees still get together for a reunion every year, usually in Beverly.

“Monopoly and Salem and Beverly are synonymous,” said Orbanes, a judge at the annual Monopoly world championships. “... Many people still tell me, after all these years, the greatest job they ever had was at Parker Brothers.”

This winter’s contest to chose a new token marks the first time fans have had a say on which of the eight tokens to add and which one to toss. The pieces, which identify the players, have undergone some changes since Parker Brothers bought the game from its original designer in 1935.

The Scottie Dog was the most popular of the classic tokens, and received 29 percent of the vote, Hasbro said. The iron got the fewest votes and was kicked to the curb.

Orbanes said his guess — based on research and polling he’s done — was that the wheelbarrow would get the heave-ho. But a wheelbarrow manufacturer launched an online “save the wheelbarrow” campaign, and the iron lost out.

“(The iron) is probably the most dated token,” he said.

Ironically, the current world Monopoly champion, a 19 year-old from Norway, plays with the iron token, Orbanes said.

The tokens originated when the niece of game creator Charles Darrow suggested using bracelet charms. The game is based on the streets of Atlantic City, N.J., and has sold more than 275 million units worldwide.

The Parker brothers — George, Charles and Edward — bought Monopoly from Darrow at the height of the Great Depression. The game, along with Sorry, Clue and others, was manufactured at the Salem factory on Bridge Street, along the North River.

The company made 25,000 copies of Monopoly in its first year. Production exploded in 1936, and 1.8 million copies were sold — the absolute maximum amount the city of Salem could produce, Orbanes said.

The Parker Brothers company was founded in 1883; the Salem manufacturing plant opened in 1901. The company moved its corporate headquarters to Dunham Road in Beverly in 1978.

Parker Brothers was eventually taken over by a succession of companies, including General Mills. Hasbro took over the company in 1991. The Salem factory stayed open for three more years until it was torn down in 1994.

The other Monopoly tokens currently in use are a race car, shoe, thimble, top hat, wheelbarrow and battleship. Most of the pieces were introduced with the first Parker Brothers game in 1935, and the Scottie dog and wheelbarrow were added in the early 1950s.

The original version also included a lantern, purse, cannon and rocking horse. A horse and rider token was used in the 1950s. During World War II, metal tokens were replaced by wooden ones, because metal was needed for the war effort.

Versions of Monopoly with the new token will come out later this year.

Orbanes, who has authored several books on Monopoly, is co-founder of Winning Moves Games, a Danvers company that markets classic games, including a classic version of Monopoly.

Winning Moves Games will continue to sell the classic version of the game with the iron token, Orbanes said.

A Gloucester resident, Orbanes’ new book, “Monopoly, Money and You,” will be released in April.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.

MONOPOLY FUN FACTS More than 275 million games have been sold worldwide. It is available in 111 countries, in 43 languages. More than 6 billion little green houses and 2.25 billion red hotels have been "constructed" since 1935. Since 1935, more than 1 billion people have played the game. More than 20 tokens have been cast since 1935, including a horse, dog, car, elephant, purse and lantern. Escape maps, compasses and files were inserted into Monopoly game boards smuggled into POW camps inside Germany during World War II. Source: