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History of SCRABBLE: A Brief History of the Popular Board Game




Thanks to the Depression...

"If there hadn't been any Depression in the Thirties there wouldn't be any SCRABBLE®." So said Alfred Butts, the inventor of SCRABBLE® who, incidentally, never made any money from what became one of the most successful board games of the twentieth century. Butts was an unemployed architect living in New York in the 30's when he began devising a word game using letters printed on small cardboard squares.

Originally called Lexiko...

Butts called his game 'Lexiko' and there was no board. That came later as the game changed its name to 'It' and then to 'Criss-Cross'. Butts made a few sets to sell to friends but it went unnoticed until 1948 when James Brunot thought it might have commercial possibilities. He and his wife began making the game in their home in Newtown, Connecticut. They settled on the name SCRABBLE®.

Sold only 2,000 sets in the first year

The Brunots only sold 2,000 sets in their first year and sales remained sluggish until 1952 when the owner of Macy's store, who had played the game while on vacation, told the toy department to stock it. Other toy shops followed suit and the rest, as they say, is history.

The New York firm of Selchow & Righter, who were making the boards for the Brunots, licensed the game in 1952, then purchased that trademark in 1972. Selchow and Righter was purchased by Coleco Industries in 1986 and when Coleco declared bankruptcy in 1989, its primary assets were purchased by Hasbro. In Britain, the rights were owned by J. W. Spear and Sons until 1966 when that company was taken over by Mattel.

The standard set cost $3...

The standard set in the fifties cost $3 but Brunot devised a deluxe version with white plastic tiles which cost $10. These plastic tiles eventually became the norm. The wooden tiles, which were manufactured of maple in Bavaria, had a grain in the wood that players could memorize to help them pick the letters they needed.

Move over Monopoly...

In 1953, Life magazine reported:

(SCRABBLE®) has in the past few months become as Mah Jong, miniature golf or Monopoly were in their respective primes (1923, 1930, 1937), and seems likely to surpass them all. At a modest estimate there are about 1.1 million SCRABBLE® sets in the U.S. today and there are perhaps 10 million players.

When the Queen Mother visited New York in 1954 she said she was fond of SCRABBLE® and former president, Richard Nixon, claimed it was his favorite form of relaxation. In 1975 it was voted 'Game of the Year' by readers of Games and Puzzles magazine. Even mountaineer, Chris Bonnington and his colleagues, spent their evenings playing SCRABBLE® while ascending the south face of Annapurna.

Anticipated in the 19th century...

Though SCRABBLE® seems comparatively new, it was anticipated as early as 1880 by Lewis Carroll. An entry in his diary notes that, 'A game might be made of letters, to be moved about on a chess-board till they form words.' And, on New Year's Day in 1895 he wrote to Winnifred Hawke and told her of a game of his own invention which is very similar to SCRABBLE®, right down to the drawing of letters from a bag.

Expert players score more than 400 points...

An expert SCRABBLE® player can regularly score more than 400 points while it has been calculated that it's theoretically possible to score as many as 4,153 points in a single game. This requires the use of words such as, benzoxycamphors, diazohydroxides, and oxyphenbutazone.

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