November 20, 2007, - 2:15 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Monopoly is one of my fave board games. But who knew that, during World War II, the game helped save British soldiers fighting the Nazis?
In one of the coolest stories about history-meets-pop-culture, Brian McMahon of Mental Floss Magazine writes that special editions of Monopoly helped Brit soldiers escape Nazi prisons and war camps. Since the article is not available to non-subscribers, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version from today’s Wall Street Journal “The Informed Reader”:
World War II Weapon: Monopoly With Real Money
The board game Monopoly served allied prisoners as a real-life tool to get out of jail during World War II, says Brian McMahon in Mental Floss, a magazine devoted to intellectual esoterica.
In 1941, the British Secret Service asked the game’s British licensee John Waddington Ltd. to add secret extras to some sets, which had become standard elements of the aid packages that the Red Cross delivered to allied prisoners of war. Along with the usual dog, top hat and and thimble, the sets had a metal file, compass, and silk maps of safe houses (silk, because it folds into small spaces and unfolds silently). Even better, real French, German and Italian currency was hidden underneath the game’s fake money. Departing allied soldiers and pilots were told that if they were captured they should look out for the special editions, identified by a red dot in the Free Parking space. Any sets remaining in the U.K. were destroyed after the war. Of the 35,000 prisoners of war who escaped German prison camps by the end of the war, “more than a few of those certainly owe their breakout to the classic board game,” says Mr. McMahon.
The game also played a role in the Cold War, with communist countries declaring the game capitalist propaganda and banning it. Despite such edicts and Marxist-inspired alternative games such as Hungary’s “Save” or Russia’s “Manage,” smuggled versions of the capitalist diversion were hits behind the Iron Curtain.
Tags: Brian McMahon, British Secret Service, Debbie Schlussel Monopoly, Hungary, John Waddington Ltd., Mental Floss, metal file, real-life tool, Red Cross, Russia, United Kingdom, Wall Street Journal