The Game of Life by Milton Bradley | Old Fashioned Games

Did you know that the Game of Life was invented in Victorian times?

The History of “Life”

Invented in 1860 by Mr. Milton Bradley, the original goal of the game was to “reach a Happy Old Age” by earning points for admirable qualities like honor and perseverance. In the modern version, the goal is to win the most money.

Milton Bradley ran a Massachusetts lithography business and when his presses were slow, he decided to create game. Since board games were associated with gambling, he chose to create a game based on morals and named it “The Checkered Game of Life.” It penalized a player for gambling, and used a spinner instead of dice as to avoid the reference to gambling dice inferred. It sold over 40,000 copies.

Updates to the game occurred between 1866 and 1911, but the popularity of morals faded, so in the 1950s a new version was created to celebrate the game’s 100th anniversary in 1960. Changes included a 3-D game board, new rules, a new name (The Game of Life), and a promotional deal with favorite television personality Art Linkletter. This version rewarded players for gambling.

The game was changed again in the 1990s with the addition of tiles promoting family activities, community service, and environmentalism.

2010 celebrated the 150th anniversary of The Game of Life, which is now available not only as a board game, but as a computer game and downloadable app. Today’s game does not mention gambling.


Watch a Vintage TV Commercial
See a 1960s vintage TV commercial for The Game of Life  here.

Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley trained as a draftsman and opened his lithography business in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1860. His best selling lithograph was of a young presidential candidate–Abraham Lincoln–until Lincoln grew a beard.

His idea for a game involved using a converted checkerboard with labels on the squares. Landing on titles like “gambling” that led the player to “ruin,” and “intemperance” that led to “poverty.” It was perfect for the moralistic Victorian era.

The next year the Civil War began and soldiers were bored much of the time. This turned out to good fortune for Bradley when charitable organizations purchased and distributed his game kits to the soldiers. They were sold to the organizations for a dollar apiece and included “The Checkered Game of Life,” backgammon, checkers, chess, and dominoes.

But Bradley didn’t rest here. He took on the ideas of German Friedrich Frobel, who was then advocating the kindergarten movement for young children, in which toys were used to spark childrens’ imaginations. Bradley began supplying educational toys to kindergartens. Even though this division of his company lost money, Bradley stayed behind the cause and continued to provide educational toys. Unfortunately, he died just before the idea of creative play became popular and did not see the company’s success in this area.

Meredith Sweetpea loves old-fashioned games and has played The Game of Life many, many times.  Have you?

See other vintage games from the 1960s here.

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