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Milton Bradley; the Game Geek and More

Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley

Earlier this week, posting for the Color Your World Challenge; Magenta, I wrote a small piece about Milton Bradley and his tie to the Crayola/ Binney & Smith Company. I found his life so interesting I wanted to share more about him!

Milton Bradley was born in Vienna, Maine, in 1836, and grew up in a working class family. After graduating from high school in 1854 he found work as a draftsman and patent agent before enrolling at the Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was unable to finish his studies or find employment, so he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and found work at the locomotive works of Blanchard & Kimball (later Bemis & Company)

When the recession hit in 1858, the company closed, and Bradley went to work for himself as a mechanical draftsman and patent agent. In 1859 he went to Providence, Rhode Island to learn lithography ( a method of printing from a flat surface, such as a metal plate, that has been prepared, so that the ink will only stick to the design that will be printed) and in 1860  he set up the first color lithography shop in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The lithography job led the way to the Milton Bradley Company and the launch of his board game, The Checkered Game of Life. However, it was not an easy launch.

Bradley printed and sold an image of the little-known-Republican presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln.  A customer demanded his money back, because the picture was not an accurate representation of Lincoln, because in the image that was sold, Lincoln was clean shaven! Lincoln had decided to grow his beard back! Bradley thought the prints were worthless and destroyed the remaining few. Now he was frantically searching for a new project and when his friend gave him a European board game, he decided he could produce a similar game for American customers and in the winter of 1860 he released The Checkered Game of Life.

Checkered Game of Life

Checkered Game of Life

The  Checkered Game of Life sold out in a two day visit to New York and by 1861 consumers had bought 45,000 copies. In this game players used a teetotum to advance to squares representing social virtues and vices, such as “influence” or “poverty”. Bradley defined success as depicting life as an accomplishment between character and wealth.

What is a teetotum?  A teetotum is a small spinning top spun with the fingers, especially one with four sides lettered to determine whether the spinner has won or lost.  It was used instead of dice, since dice was considered gambling. Following the Civil War this game lead to great financial success for Bradley’s Company.

Teetotum, 1881

Teetotum, 1881

The Milton Bradley Company also published magazines and pamphlets aimed at education, starting with The Kindergarten News and Work and Play. He continued to publish them, although they were not money makers, until the end of his life. By the 1890’s Bradley had introduced the first standardized watercolor sets and educational games such as Bradley’s Word Builder and Bradley’s Sentence Builder. He also was the FIRST to release crayon packages with standardized colors and eventually sold them to Binney & Smith, the Crayola Company, but when he did, the first combined Binney & Smith and Bradley Company crayons had his seal of approval on the boxes. His interest in art education led him to also produce the color wheel and he also published four books about teaching colors. Two of his books were Color in the Schoolroom, 1890, and Color in the Kindergarten, 1893. He also published a set of rules to play croquet in 1866 using the pseudonym, Professor A. Rover.

Bradley held 9 patents on various toys and games and he also invented the panorama viewer for soldiers of the American Civil war!

The Milton Bradley Company dominated the production of American games, including The Game of Life, Candy Land, Operation, and Battleship. The company was eventually sold to Hasbro. In 2004, Milton Bradley was posthumously inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. We have Milton Bradley to thank for hours of educational and artistic enjoyment! He definitely was a man who enjoyed work and play!

3 Responses to “Milton Bradley; the Game Geek and More”

  1. Hildegard

    Fascinating life story. I am always amazed at the inherent creativity in so many people who “didn’t make it through school” and yet ended up contributing to society in innovative ways.

    Reply
    • CadyLuck Leedy

      I know, I had no idea about Milton Bradley but played all those games!!! I love his combinations of work and play in the classroom!

      Reply

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