The History of Scrabble
The Anagram and Crossword Board Game That Almost Wasn’t. Scrabble is an American institution, and whether you are a Scrabble phenom or a novice when it comes to triple word scores, you’ll love the history of this popular game.
There are an estimated ten million Scrabble® players in the United States. This popular, cerebral board game has a dramatic and checkered past, and if it weren’t for a twist of fate, might not be with us at all.
Even though it didn’t make a big splash when it was first introduced Scrabble made up for its false start in the marketplace with some help from Macy’s. It is a story of serendipity, the unexpected good fortune that comes from being in the right place at the right time.
Alfred Mosher Butt’s Big Idea
We owe the idea for Scrabble to the creative genius of Alfred Mosher Butts who developed the idea in 1938. It was an inspired blending of anagrams and crossword puzzles to which he added a more competitive edge by devising a point numbering system for the letters based on how frequently they are used in forming words. His game, Criss-Crosswords, which had a crossword-like format, was similar to the game we’ve come to know and love.
Scrabble Changes Hands
Mr. Butts was a better game designer than marketer. Despite repeated efforts, he was unable to sell his idea to the major game manufacturers of the day. Ten years later, James Brunot bought the rights to Criss-Crosswords from Alfred Butts in exchange for royalty considerations. The two principal changes he made were to rearrange the board’s layout and to rename it. Scrabble was born.
Scrabble Finds a Market
Within the year, Brunot produced over 2,000 games in his small factory in Dodgington, Connecticut– and lost money. This story could have had a very unhappy ending if fate hadn’t intervened.
Jack Strauss, the then president of Macy’s, came across one of Burnot’s Scrabble games while on a family vacation. After playing it – and playing it, he was so impressed that he checked his store’s toy inventory and realized that Scrabble was not carried by Macy’s. Within a year of his placing a large order, Scrabble was all the rage, and an American institution was born. Unable to keep up with the volume of orders, Brunot sold the manufacturing rights to Selchow and Righter in 1952.
Scrabble spent an uneventful thirty years or so under the supervision of Selchow and Righter, until 1986 when it changed hands again, this time going to Coleco. When Coleco filed bankruptcy, Hasbro purchased the rights to Scrabble, and is its current manufacturer as of this writing.
The next time you spell a complicated word, or make a pot-full of points on Scrabble night, tip your hat to fate, and Macy’s, without them, making a triple word score might just be a private fantasy.