Monopoly’s Secret Weapon

Carole McFaddan

So, who ever thought we could learn things from our favorite childhood board games? Oh, right! Of course Parker Brothers’ Clue taught us how to solve crime and murder mysteries and Hasbro’s Game of Life taught us how we’d make out in the real world. But who would have ever guessed that the makers of Monopoly, not only instilled corporate capitalism in our minds but also saved the lives of Ally soldiers during World War II?

During World War II the board game Monopoly served allied prisoners with a “real life tool to get out of jail,” said Brian McMahon in Mental Floss Magazine. During WWII, the game set had become a standard element of aid packages delivered to allied prisoners of war from the Red Cross and in 1941, the British Secret Service requested that the game’s British licensee John Waddington Ltd. add secret extras to some sets.

In addition to the normal pieces, such as the dog, top hat, and racecar, these get out of jail sets enclosed a metal file, compass, and silk maps of Allied safe houses. The use of silk maps was of special interest due to the fact that it folds silently and into small spaces easily. The British Secret Service and Waddington Ltd. mastered a newly designed box for the product, with secret compartments to hide the new pieces and currency.

Departing allied soldiers were notified that if 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 it is unknown how many owe their breakout to the classic board game.

The game also played a role in the Cold War, with communist countries declaring the game capitalist propaganda, and thus banning it. Despite many laws and others “Marxist-inspired alternative games” such as Hungary’s Save or Russia’s Manage, contraband versions of the capitalist diversion were quite popular behind the Iron Curtain.

After the war, all remaining special edition sets were destroyed and everyone involved in the plot were sworn to secrecy. Although the war was over, Monopoly’s role went unrecognized because of the strict secrecy surrounding the plot until 2007, when the case was de-classified. The reason for the secrecy was very simple: Should another war occur, Allied officials wanted to be able to break out the games once more.