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THE GAME MAKERS: The Story of Parker Brothers from Tiddledy Winks to Trivial Pursuit

By Philip E. Orbanes

"From one who loves games: The Game Makers is a real page turner. Nobody knows the subject matter better than Phil Orbanes, and it shows. A most compelling read."
--Wink Martindale, host, Music for Lift, and veteran host for award-winning game shows such as Can You Top This, Tic-Tac-Dough, and Trivial Pursuit

Is there anyone out there who hasn't experienced the thrill of playing the Monopoly game—buying up all that lucrative property, putting up those big hotels, collecting all that rent? Or how about Clue, the great whodunit—figuring out that it really was Mrs. White in the library with the candlestick? How many times have you impressed your friends with your wealth of random knowledge in Trivial Pursuit?  All of these classic games and more—including the modern jigsaw puzzle, Ping Pong, and the Nerf football—came to us from one source: Parker Brothers, founded in 1883 by a 16-year-old dreamer named George Parker.


In THE GAME MAKERS: The Story of Parker Brothers From Tiddledy Winks to Trivial Pursuit (HBS Press; November 14, 2003), Philip E. Orbanes, a game historian and former Parker Brothers executive, tells the fascinating story of how George Parker, the ultimate American entrepreneur, and his brothers grew a tiny family firm into a brand powerhouse that reflected—and ultimately helped shape—the culture of a nation.  Based on extensive research—including the never-before-published personal archives of Parker and interviews with surviving family members—Orbanes reveals the origins of many classic games and details the birth and maturation of the toy industry as seen through the eyes of one of its greatest legends.


The George S. Parker Company

In the summer of 1883, sixteen-year-old George S. Parker, the youngest of three brothers, was living in Medford, MA, a suburb north of Boston.  Fascinated by board games but frustrated by the lack of excitement in the games of that era, Parker invented a game of his own—a game he called Banking.  So convinced were Parker's friends that this was it—just the game that kids everywhere wanted—that they persuaded him to try to publish Banking.   He did publish his new game, and by Christmas Eve of that year, Parker had sold all but a few of his first 500 copies.  After expenses, he had cleared a profit of $80.  Now a minor celebrity, Parker published a second game called Baker's Dozen and then added a third, Famous Men.  In 1888, Parker brought his brothers Charles and Edward on board and Parker Brothers was born.  From $500 in 1883, annual sales grew to $40,000 by 1890 and rose to $110,000 in 1898.  In fifteen years, George S. Parker's company moved from the basement of his mother's home to a storefront in downtown Salem to a three-story industrial building brimming with activity.  Parker Brothers was born.


Twelve Guiding Principles

According to Orbanes, the older George Parker became, the more convinced he was that business itself was like a game.  Parker settled on twelve such "rules" or principles that successfully guided his decisions for decades.  But Parker Brothers endured and flourished armed with more than 12 principles.  It made enduring products, cultivated devoted and capable employees, sank deep roots into a community that returned its loyalty, and fostered quality and customer service long before these became buzzwords in US business.


Parker Brothers Through the Years

By applying George Parker's 12 business principles, Parker Brothers survived through two world wars, the Great Depression, natural disasters and family tragedies.  Orbanes demonstrates how through it all, games like Monopoly, Boggle, Risk, and others, succeeded in bringing smiles to the faces of millions by connecting them to—or helping them forget—the events taking place around them.  But the story of this family business is more than just a highlight in the annals of US industry.   Below the glare lies a study of contrasts: of self-limitation as well as expansion; rigidity as well as flexibility; and of a serious-mindedness among a few men that generated lightheartedness for millions.


Engaging and insightful, THE GAME MAKERS tells the never-before-told story of Parker Brothers—the firm that sixteen year old George Parker started with only fifty dollars and his dream to become the best game company in the nation.  



Preface: The Object of this Book
First Moves 1883-1897
Learning the Game 1898-1910
Dealing with Setbacks 1911-1933 Rolling Doubles 1934-1952
Running Up the Score 1953-1968
New Rules 1968-1984
Back to Go 1984-1991
Epilogue 1991-


Philip E. Orbanes is currently president of Winning Moves, Inc., a specialty game company that markets retro games and select new titles in Danvers, MA.  He's been a game executive and historian for more than thirty years.  He held the position of senior vice president of research and development at Parker Brothers during the 1980s and also served as chief judge at Parker Brothers' U.S. and world Monopoly championships.  He is author of The Monopoly Companion and Rook in a Book and is the inventor of many board and card games. 





The Story of Parker Brothers from Tiddledy Winks to Trivial Pursuit

Harvard Business School Press

November 14, 2003 * 288 pages * ISBN: 1-59139-269-1

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