Do you like to play board games? If so, can you think of some of your favorite board games? My kids and I love to play board games together. It’s one of our favorite past times. It’s fun to pull out the game, set up the board, and get into the gameplay together. We like card games, too. Some of our favorite games are Chess, Sushi Go, Settlers of Catan, Splendor, Niya, Guess Who, Rummikub, Yahtzee, and Sleeping Queens.
Have you ever wondered about the creative people who make these games? They love to play games themselves but come up with new games on their own. Pretty interesting, right? Today we’re going to learn about one of the first board game inventors named Milton Bradley.
Milton Bradley was born on November 8, 1836, in Maine in the United States. The Bradley Family lived a simple life and both parents worked to get by. Education was important to the Bradleys, so they spent their free time teaching their children the best they could. They also enjoyed having fun together. One of their favorite things to do as a family was play games. Chess and checkers were two of their favorites.
When Milton was eleven his family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts. There his father worked in a cotton factory and Milton went to grammar school. Milton was artistic, so when he finished high school he wanted to study art at the university. But school cost more money than he had, so he got a job first and started saving. He also spent his free time selling pens, paper, and ink to other workers in Lowell. He was a great salesman because people liked him and he was friendly.
After Milton had finally saved enough money for school, his family decided to move to Connecticut, so he had to follow them there instead of attending art school. But there wasn’t much for him to do in Connecticut, so he decided to move to the bigger city of Springfield, Massachusetts, and make a life for himself there.
In Springfield, he found a job as a draftsman for a train company. A draftsman draws the different parts needed for a machine, such as a train. It was the perfect job for Milton because he liked to draw and had spent many hours practicing over the years.
One day the Pasha of Egypt visited the train car company. He was an important leader in Egypt. The Pasha wanted a special train car designed just for himself. The company chose Milton to draw the plans for the train and he was very proud of his work when it was done.
But soon there wasn’t enough work to do at the train car company, so Milton decided to start his own company. This is called being entrepreneurial. An entrepreneur is someone who is always thinking of new business ideas. They aren’t always successful, some of their ideas fail, and others work. But they keep trying new things until something good sticks. Milton started off drawing as a draftsman, but that didn’t keep him busy enough, so he started a printing shop. Unfortunately, it was a tough time to start a business, because war in the United States would start soon. This came to be known as the Civil War where the Northern States fought against the Southern States over states’ rights and slavery. Milton was sad about the war and sad that his printing shop wasn’t making money.
One day Milton’s childhood friend, George Tapley, visited to cheer him up. He brought a game and they played it together and had a great time. When they were done George thought “I own a printing shop, I could make my own games!” But as George thought about it, he decided he wanted to make a game that was different — a game that wasn’t only fun, but taught you something about life. His first game design had red and white squares, like a checkerboard, but with different words on each square about different life choices. There was also a spinner. After spinning and getting a number, you chose which direction on the board to go. If you made good choices you ended up on “Happy Old Age” instead “Ruin.” He called it “The Checkered Game of Life.”
When Milton finished the game he showed it to his friend George who liked it, too. Then he and his assistant got to work printing it and assembled several hundred games for Milton to sell. Next, he packed up all the games and traveled to New York City to sell them. To his excitement, stores were happy to buy his game. He sold them all over New York and they were a great success!
Once stores sold all of Milton’s games so they asked for more. Word spread about The Checkered Game of Life throughout New York and then into other states. Milton and his assistant got to work making more games to fulfill all of the new orders.
By this time the Civil War had started and soldiers from the Northern and Southern states were fighting each other. One day Milton saw a group of soldiers who looked bored. He thought they might like to play a game. He had the idea to build a small set of games they could carry around, so he made a plan and then built it. It came in a small bag and included a small board for checkers, chess, backgammon, dominoes, and The Checkered Game of Life. He gave some of the game kits to soldiers, then started selling them to stores for $1 a kit. Soldiers loved playing these games, it cheered them up, and Milton was able to sell thousands of them.
Milton’s next game was called “Modern Hieroglyphics, or Picture Writings for the Times,” which told news stories using hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics are Ancient Egyptian writing.
Finally, in 1865 the Civil War ended. Many businesses struggled, but Milton Bradley’s game company kept selling games because people needed the distraction and something to make them happy more than ever. Milton and his wife Vilona often invited large groups of people to their homes to play games. By this time George was focusing all of his time on just creating new games for his company to print, build and sell.
One day Milton met a man named Freidrich Froebel from Germany who had started creating schools for younger kids. He called them “Kindergartens.” He discovered that small children could learn through play. For example, they could play with puzzles to work out a problem or wooden blocks to learn to count. His kindergartens focused on teaching children through play. Milton also met a woman named Elizabeth Peabody who also believed that children could learn through play. Her students used numbered blocks and balls to learn to count and add and subtract. Milton thought this was very interesting and wanted his company to help teach children this way. Soon the Milton Bradley Company was building blocks and other toys for kindergartens and for families to buy for their children. Milton created a learning toy called multiplication sticks, a box of matchstick-sized sticks that taught kids their multiplication tables. Soon his company was also making crayons, paints, and other items that kindergartens needed.
As the company grew they moved into a bigger building and Milton’s friend George joined the company. They spend their time inventing new games and designing new products to sell.
Soon Milton and his family were very wealthy, but he was just happy he was able to do work he enjoyed and help people have fun and schools have the supplies they needed. He didn’t use his money for expensive things, he just enjoyed the extra time he had with his family while they lived in Springfield. In 1907 he retired from the Milton Bradley Company and his friend George took over.
Before long Milton’s children had their own children and he had grandchildren. He enjoyed his growing family and the time he was able to spend with them.
On May 30, 1911, Milton passed away at the age of 75. Over the years the Milton Bradley Company hired more people to create games and continued to be successful and grow. Some of their most popular games are Battleship, Twister, Candyland, Scrabble, Connect Four, Guess Who, Yahtzee and later strategic games like Axis & Allies and Stratego. In 1984 the Milton Bradley Company was bought by Hasbro, who also bought Parker Brothers game company.
Like Milton Bradley, you can practice your creativity by using your imagination to come up with new ideas. Everyone is creative in one way or another. Milton wasn’t afraid to fail sometimes and try new things. Failure is ok because it’s one of the best ways to learn. If we never try new things, we never learn. Be brave and don’t be afraid to try new things even if you might not get them right the first time and fail.
Here’s a challenge for the week: spend some time thinking about and planning out your own board game. Think of other games you like. You could take the pattern for those games and make it a little different based on your interest. Or maybe it’s a card game? Don’t be afraid to try a few different ideas and even start over a few times until you end up with something you like. If you do come up with an idea, with the help of your feel free to share it on our Facebook page! I’d love to see what you come up with.
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