History (Timeline) of the Game of Life: 1860, Milton Bradley …

Game of Life with game pieces on the board (white and black)
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The Game of Life is undoubtedly a fun game, but do you know anything about its history? I recently found myself wondering what the Game of Life is really all about. I wanted to have a few questions answered, such as where the game comes from, who invented it, why it was invented, and what made it become the popular board game that it is today.

If you think about it, most homes have a copy of the Game of Life in their collection of board games. Why is that? It must have something to do with its history, right? Let us find out.

A timeline of the history of the Game of Life:

  1. In the 1850s, Milton Bradley invests in a Lithographic printer and considers his options.
  2. Milton Bradley invents the game in 1860, calling it “Checkered Game of Life”.
  3. The game board resembles a modified Checkers board.
  4. By the end of year 1, Bradley sells over 45,000 games.
  5. In 1960, the Game of Life celebrates its 100th anniversary and gets a make-over.
  6. Milton Bradley Company copyrights the Game of Life, in 1963, and implements some changes.
  7. Since 1999, various versions of the Game of Life start coming out.
  8. In 2010, the Game of Life was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

After reading through the above points, you can see that the Game of Life is a game that has a fairly simple and straightforward history. It was created by one person and has pretty much grown in popularity ever since its release. Some would say that its creator was somewhat lucky! 

You probably did not know this, but the Game of Life was actually one of America’s first popular parlor games. This fact alone makes it a fairly interesting and special game, in my opinion. 

If you would like to learn a bit more about the game, read on. Below I go into a bit more detail about each of the points in the Game of Life’s history. 

8 Interesting Points in the History of the Game of Life

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For me, playing the Game of Life is all about the fun, but the history certainly interested me too. If you would like to get to know a bit more about the history of Game of Life, you have come to the right place. First of all, I am an avid board game player myself, so the history of this game is certainly of interest to me. Secondly, I found the 8 titbits from the history of the Game of Life really interesting – so thoroughly enjoyed researching the game. Below are 8 points from the game’s history that I feel holds importance. Check them out.

1. In the 1850s, Milton Bradley invests in a Lithographic printer and considers his options.

The Game of Life was not really one of those games someone spent many years trying to perfect and fine-tune. In fact, it seemed to be created fairly easily. Just before the Game of Life was invented, Milton Bradley invested in a Lithographic printer. He was one of the first investors of such a printer – and he had no serious plans for it. Keep in mind that the Milton Bradley Company was not yet formed. Milton was on the cusp of great things, and he did not even know it. 

Milton had first earned a lucrative income from printing a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. In the portrait, Abraham Lincoln had a clean-shaven face – which is how he looked at the time. When Abraham Lincoln grew his famous beard, the portrait became a failure. Milton needed to move onto new things, and after much thought, he decided to print his own game. Much time and effort were put into creating a game that he could print.

2. Milton Bradley invents the game in 1860, calling it “Checkered Game of Life”.

Milton wanted to create a game that rewarded good morals and highlighted the regular cycle of the average person’s life. He thus designed the Game of Life in 1860, but he called it “The Checkered Game of Life”. The name of the game changed to simply “Game of Life” later on, and nowadays, it is sometimes even called just “Life”.

3. The game board resembles a modified Checkers board.

checkers board table wooden style
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The very first the Game of Life playing board resembled a modified Checkers board. The board was filled with blocks (just like a Checkers board), and players would have to progress from one block to the next through life, from entry into college and right through to retirement. The game included some obscure squares that are no longer included on today’s game board. This includes the likes of “suicide” – which has been removed.

4. By the end of year 1, Bradley sells over 45,000 games.

Milton Bradley released his game to the market in 1960. When he launched the game, he also launched his business called the Milton Bradley Company. Milton Bradley’s main focus was on printing and distributing his new game, which he did seemingly well with. In the first year, Milton experienced great success and sold more than 45,000 games

5. In 1960, the Game of Life celebrates 100 years and gets a make-over.

In 1960, the Game of Life reached 100 years and certainly celebrated it. The Game of Life board game received a complete make-over in its 100th year. When this happened, the Milton Bradley Company worked closely with Reuben Klamer, a well-known game designer. Together they created a game board and cards that looked just as good as it was fun. 

The new design of the Game of Life consisted of a track that passed over and through small mountain ranges and buildings as well as a variety of other features. Players travel along the track in a small plastic car. How they progress is determined by the spinning of a wheel. 

It is interesting to note that the lack of dice is due to Milton believing that they are associated with gambling, which was against his morals. Each of the player’s cars has 6 holes, which are used for players to insert pegs into every time they acquire a new person (spouse, child, or grandchild).

The game’s new look was enjoyed and well received by the public, so much so that a well-known television and radio personality called Art Linkletter, fully endorsed it.

6. Milton Bradley Company copyrights the Game of Life, in 1963, and implements some changes.

Milton Bradley decided to change the name of the game when the overhaul to its appearance took place. Now the game would just be “the Game of Life” instead of “the Checkered Game of Life” as it had been known. In 1963, he implemented some changes to the game and copyrighted it. It is this version of the game that can be seen in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, today.

Concept of copyrighted material
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7. Since 1999, various versions of the Game of Life start coming out.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different themes of the Game of Life available? And when all of these themes started coming out? 

The 1960’s version of the Game of Life seemed to do extremely well for the years to follow. Sales were not struggling, and the game grew steadily in popularity. Since 1999, it seemed as if the game became available in a variety of versions and themes, including Hello Kitty, Monster’s Inc, Fame, and even SpongeBob SquarePants. 

It’s quite interesting to browse through all of the versions and themes currently available. These versions and themes merely increase over the years. There are many versions of the Game of Life to choose from nowadays. 

8. In 2010, the Game of Life was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

It seems as if the Game of Life’s popularity grew naturally and steadily. There is no apparently big scandal regarding its history, and its sheer enjoyment makes it a firm favorite for Americans. It is safe to say that there was nothing small-fry about the Game of Life. The game was always meant for great things, and its popularity over the years proves this. 

In 2010, the Game of Life was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. It is one of few games that are revered as true heritages of the United States. As one of America’s first parlor games to be so popular, it certainly deserves its spot at the National Toy Hall of Fame. 

In summary

The history of the Game of Life is simple, straightforward, and interesting. A man had an idea for a game in 1960 and a lithographic printing machine. He put the printing machine to work to create his game and started distributing it. 100 years later, the Game of Life was a firm favorite in just about every American household. Whether you are encountering the Game of Life for the first time or if you are a veteran player, I wish you only the best of luck.