If you’ve played a board game in the last hundred and sixty years, there is a big chance that you enjoyed something from the man known as Milton Bradley. His company’s catalog of board games ranges from the obscure to the commercially infamous. But it all began with The Checkered Game of Life. A game that would change the way board games were played, how Americans spent their time, and that began by giving bored troops in the Civil War something to do.
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Who Was Milton Bradley?
Milton Bradley was an entrepreneur from Vienna, Maine would go on to establish the Milton Bradley Company. This company would establish an outstanding and ongoing legacy and become one of the largest board game manufacturers in the 19th and 20th centuries.
After enrolling in school, Bradley would eventually settle into lithography. His work wasn’t an immediate success, but after launching The Checkered Game of Life, the predecessor to The Game of Life, his world would turn upside down and change the way we enjoy board games forever.
Games by Bradley would become a mainstay for homes across the U.S. looking for entertainment. With more and more leisure time becoming available to families, the popularity of such games spread like wildfire.
War Is Bloody, Violent, and Sometimes…Well, Boring
It’s undeniable that war brings out the worst in all of us. It’s far from the most noble activity that anyone can undertake. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of downtime, either. This was especially true during the Civil War when it was necessary for soldiers to travel long distances before any sort of conflict would even begin.
Troops would get restless. They’d get bored and quickly find the need for something to do. This was the case with many fighters on both sides of the Civil War. But where others failed to capitalize, Milton Bradley found an opportunity to launch a gaming empire.
It wasn’t uncommon to find troops playing games, writing letters, and playing this newfound sport called baseball. Some even played football, though it was less football as we know it and more akin to fighting within rugby-type scrums that often resulted in more injuries than scoring opportunities.
Regardless, taking time for leisure in between conflicts gave birth to leisure time for playing games, and Milton Bradley’s The Checkered Game of Life was up for the task of entertaining America, even if it was a divided America at the time.
Before creating what would go on to become The Game of Life, Bradley was actually quite a failure. He attempted to sell games before this one, and his efforts were not successful. At one point he changed tacts altogether and went on to sell prints of President Abraham Lincoln.
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This worked until people figured out what Lincoln actually looked like and demanded their money back. Rather than give up, Milton Bradley would invent The Checkered Game of Life. He sold his game in the winter of 1860 throughout New York. Finally, along the way, he would find success.
But soon after, America’s growing problem between the North and the South would come to the forefront for people everywhere. The American Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, after shots were fired at Fort Sumter.
This gave Bradley another idea, which he would soon abandon. Instead of making his long-awaited successful game, it was time to make weapons. After all, the war had broken out and both sides needed them, so why not?
Luckily for all of us, he would go forgo this idea to become another John Browning after seeing how bored the Soldiers were in Springfield, MA, and he decided to continue to make games, instead. His focus now included travel-sized games aimed at the military.
Before long, Bradley would expand his offerings to puzzles, educational toys, croquet sets, and much more. Thankfully, the American Civil War would end on April 9, 1865, but the Milton Bradley Company would live on for much, much longer.
Milton Bradley Games Continue in Popularity Today
The Milton Bradley Company doesn’t exist anymore. In 1984, the Hasbro-Milton Bradley deal created a new toy giant that would see the game company become a division of Hasbro. By 1998, the original Milton Bradley company was no more, and by 2009, the brand was gone altogether.
But that doesn’t mean the impact of the company has gone away, nor the games it produced and made popular. Fan favorite examples include Twister, Battleship, Candy Land, Connect Four, and of course, the Game of Life.
What was sparked out of an increase in downtime, a distraction from war, and a shift from puritan objectives to competitive gameplay, continues to be a mainstay in homes across the country. Milton Bradley may be gone, but his impact on the gaming industry and redefining leisure activity in America isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.