The history of the game Monopoly dates back as far as 1903 years before the onset of World War II.  The game was originally designed by Elizabeth Phillips and was intended to help people understand Henry George’s single tax theory.  Originally, Ms. Phillips game was called, The Landlord’s Game.  This game evolved over the next 25 years; an in 1934, Parker Brother’s created their own version of the game and titled it Monopoly.

Most people are unaware of just HOW historical this game was used during World War II.  The role of the game started in 1941, when a large number of British Airmen began flying missions over Germany.  Eventually, a number of them were captured by the Third Reich.  Immediately, plans to assist in their escape began.

Silk_Escape_Map_of_Milan_area_issued_to_Major_Oliver_ChurchillRealizing a map would be crucial for those attempting their escape, ideas began to evolve on how to create these maps and then how to smuggle them into the prisoners.  Paper, though the easiest and most obvious choice, was not practical for a number of reasons.  First, paper makes noise as it is folded and unfolded.  Second, it wears out rather quickly.  Third, if the paper gets wet, the map is no longer viable.  Eventually, someone realized that printing these maps on silk would provide both a ‘quiet’ and durable map while still providing the prisoners with crucial information such as escape route and landmarks.

During this time in Great Britain, only one manufacturer was capable of printing on silk.  The name of the company was John Waddington, Ltd.  This company was more than happy to do their part in assisting with the war efforts.  Waddington, Ltd. was also the United Kingdom licensee to the popular American game Monopoly.  They worked with members of the British War Office and developed an incredible strategy – they devised a way to modify the Monopoly boards so silk maps and other necessary items could be smuggled – undetected – into the POW camps.  These rigged games would then be delivered to the Allied POWs via fictitious organizations such as the Licensed Victuallers Prisoner Relief Fund.

Board Modifications

Under the tightest security and with utmost secrecy, the Waddington Company secured a number of employees, who were sworn to secrecy.  These employees began mass producing the maps of the regions around the various POW camps pointing out escape routes and all other vital information needed to assist the prisoners with a successful escape.

Monopoly John Waddington LtdPrecise indentations were made in the game boards prior to being finished.  Just before the final labels were applied, compasses, a two part file and silk maps (specific to the POW camp to which it was being sent) would be placed inside.  Even authentic money of high denominations was cleverly hidden within the Monopoly money itself.  The boxes containing these items were marked with what appeared as a simple red dot printing error.   Once delivered, the sets would then be destroyed after the escape aids were removed.

Though never actually confirmed, some estimates claim that as many as 10,000 of the 35,000 escaped prisoners of World War II were assisted with the items smuggled in via the Monopoly games.   This clever use of the Monopoly game during World War II gives an entirely new meaning to the game’s “Get out of jail free” card.

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