Discover the history behind one of the world’s favorite word games!
It Began With a Crash
There were many victims of America’s Great Depression in 1929. But in 1933 an out of work architect named Alfred Mosher Butts invented a game that would lift the spirits of millions.
Hailing from Poughkeepsie, New York, Butts had taken to analyzing popular games, defining three different categories: number games, such as dice and bingo; move games, such as chess and checkers; and word games, such as anagrams. He also noted, “...there is one thing that keeps word games from being as popular as card games: they have no score.”
Attempting to combine the thrill of chance and skill, Butts entwined the elements of anagrams and the classic crossword puzzle into a scoring word game first called LEXIKO. This was then refined during the early 1930s and 1940s to become CRISS CROSS WORDS.
The SCRABBLE game is born
Legend has it Butts studied the front page of “The New York Times” to make his calculations for the letter distribution in the game. This skilled, cryptographic analysis of our language formed the basis of the original tile distribution, which has remained constant through almost three generations and billions of games.
Nevertheless, established game manufacturers unanimously slammed the door on Butts’ invention. It was only when Butts met James Brunot, a game-loving entrepreneur, that the concept became a commercial reality.
Together they refined the rules and design and then, most importantly, came up with the name SCRABBLE – a word defined as ‘to grasp, collect, or hold on to something’; and a word that truly captured the essence of this remarkable concept. And so the SCRABBLE Brand Crossword Game was trademarked in 1948.
Words Don’t Always Come Easily…
Pushing on, the Brunots rented a small, red, abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut. Along with some friends, they turned out 12 games an hour, stamping letters on wooden tiles one at a time. Only later were boards, boxes, and tiles made elsewhere and sent to the factory for assembly and shipping.
In fact, the first four years were a struggle. In 1949 the Brunots made 2,400 sets and lost $450. Nevertheless, the SCRABBLE game gained slow but steady popularity among a handful of consumers.
Then in the early 1950s, legend has it, that the president of MACY’S discovered the game while on vacation and ordered some for his store. Within a year, the SCRABBLE game was a ‘must-have’ hit, to the point that SCRABBLE games were being rationed to stores around the country!
In 1952, the Brunots licensed Selchow & Righter Company, a well-known game manufacturer, to market and distribute the games in the United States and Canada. Selchow & Righter stepped up production to meet the overwhelming demand for the SCRABBLE game. In 1972, Selchow & Righter purchased the trademark from Brunot, thereby giving the company the exclusive rights to all SCRABBLE Brand products and entertainment services in the United States and Canada. One of the game’s first shrewd moves…
By 1986, Selchow & Righter was sold to COLECO Industries, who had become famous as the manufacturers of the Cabbage Patch Dolls. Yet three years later, COLECO declared bankruptcy, and its primary assets — most notably the SCRABBLE game and PARCHESI™ — were purchased by Hasbro, Inc., owner of the Milton Bradley Company, America’s leading game manufacturer.
Today the SCRABBLE game is found in three of every five American homes, ranging from a Junior edition to an Electronic Scoring edition with many versions in between including: standard, deluxe, and travel-sized games.
Like chess and bridge, competitive SCRABBLE game play is hugely popular and continues to add players every year.
Each year, the North American SCRABBLE Players Association (NASPA) hosts a National SCRABBLE Championship in a major U.S. city. The tournament attracts more than 500 highly-skilled and competitive adult SCRABBLE players who compete in 31 rounds of one-on-one play over a five day period.
The NASPA has thousands of players with official tournament ratings who compete in weekly competitions at sanctioned clubs across the U.S. and Canada. You can get involved and find out more about the NASPA by visiting scrabbleplayers.org.
The Challenge Continues…
Whatever the stakes, at home or locking intellectual horns in a tournament, competitive players are able to check and challenge their SCRABBLE words using Merriam-Webster’s “Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary.”
The fifth edition of the dictionary was released in 2014, and has added more than 5,000 words since its last update. One notable word that was added was “GEOCACHE”, a word chosen by fans in the SCRABBLE Word Showdown which took place on Facebook in 2014.
For school aged SCRABBLE enthusiasts, The National School SCRABBLE TOURNAMENT brings together contestants from across the U.S. and Canada, unearthing the youngest rising SCRABBLE stars. Students who compete in the tournament are generally members of a school SCRABBLE club where they learn the rules of the game, practice their vocabulary, and learn the benefits of teamwork.
Parents, teachers, and coaches can go to www.schoolscrabble.us to learn more about the event and to register students for the tournament, held annually in the spring.
The SCRABBLE game has also reached a new community of players in the digital age with digital versions of the game from Hasbro licensee Electronic Arts. Available on Facebook, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, these digital versions are a continuing testament to Alfred Mosher Butts and his wonderful game of words.
SCRABBLE, the associated logo, the design of the distinctive SCRABBLE brand game board, and the distinctive letter tile designs are trademarks of Hasbro in the United States and Canada and are used with permission. © 2014 Hasbro. All rights reserved.