Milton Bradley Company

Milton Bradley Company
Milton Bradley Company
Type Wholly Owned Subsidiary
Industry Games
Founded 1860
Headquarters East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, United States
Products Battleship
Buffalo Bill Gun
Connect Four
Hungry Hungry Hippos
The Game of Life
Axis & Allies
Gamemaster Series
Parent Hasbro

The Milton Bradley Company is an American game company established by Milton Bradley in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1860. In 1920, it absorbed the game production of McLoughlin Brothers, formerly the largest game manufacturer in the United States, and in 1987, it purchased Selchow and Righter, makers of Parcheesi and Scrabble.

Milton Bradley was taken over by Hasbro, Inc., in 1984. Now wholly owned by Hasbro, it is still retained as one of Hasbro's brands, similar to the manner in which Parker Brothers is one of Hasbro's brands. It is a board game and sometimes video game publisher. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley marketed a series of games (such as HeroQuest) in North America that were developed in the United Kingdom by Games Workshop (GW) that drew heavily from GW's Warhammer Fantasy universe, albeit without explicit reference to the Warhammer product line. Milton Bradley also developed numerous game consoles such as the Microvision and Vectrex.

Milton Bradley was sued by two men, Alan Coleman and Roger Burten, who claimed to have presented the original concept for Dark Tower to Milton Bradley in the late 1970s, at which point, MB declined to pursue it, but thereafter "independently" developed the game.[1] One of the Dark Tower game designers claims the court's decision was unfair.[2] As part of the resolution of the lawsuit, Milton Bradley pulled the game off the market, and it was never republished.[citation needed]

James J. Shea was the board chairman of the Milton Bradley Company who rescued the company from going into bankruptcy.[3]


In 1860, Milton Bradley moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, and set up the state’s first color lithography shop. His likeness of Abraham Lincoln sold very well until Lincoln grew his beard and rendered the likeness out-of-date.

Struggling to find a new way to use his lithography machine, Bradley visited his friend George Tapley.[4] Tapley challenged him to a game, most likely an old English game. Bradley conceived the idea of making a purely American game.[5] He created “The Checkered Game of Life”, which had players move along a track from Infancy to Happy Old Age,[6] in which the point was to avoid Ruin and reach Happy Old Age. Squares were labeled with moral positions from honor and bravery to disgrace and ruin.[4] Players used a spinner instead of dice because of the negative association with gambling.[6]

By spring of 1861, over 45,000 copies of “The Checkered Game of Life” had been sold. Bradley became convinced board games were his company’s future.[5]

When the Civil War broke out in early 1861, Bradley temporarily gave up making board games and tried to make new weaponry. However, upon seeing bored soldiers stationed in Springfield, Bradley began producing small games the soldiers could play during their down time.[4] This is regarded as the first travel game in the country.[7] These games included chess, checkers, backgammon, dominoes, and “The Checkered Game of Life.” There were sold for one dollar a piece to soldiers and charitable organizations that bought them in bulk to distribute.[4]

By the 1870s, the company was producing dozens of games and capitalizing on fads. Milton Bradley became the first manufacturer in America to make croquet sets. The sets included wickets, mallets, balls, stakes, and an authoritative set of rules to play by that Bradley himself had created from oral tradition and his own sense of fair play.[5] In 1880, the company began making jigsaw puzzles.

In the late 1860s, Bradley became involved in the Kindergarten movement. Deeply invested in the cause, his company began manufacturing educational items such as colored papers and paints. The company was hurt by Bradley’s generosity. He gave these materials away free of charge, which cost them. Due to the recession of the late 1870s, his investors told him either his kindergarten work must go or they would go. Bradley chose to keep his kindergarten work. His friend George Tapley bought the interest of the lost investors and took over as president of the Milton Bradley Company.[4] Peabody promoted the philosophy of the German scholar Friedrich Froebel. Froebel stated that through education children learn and develops through creative activities. Bradley would spend much of the rest of his life promoting the kindergarten movement both personally and through the Milton Bradley Company.[8]

Milton Bradley was an early advocate of Friedrich Froebel's idea of Kindergarten. Springfield's first kindergarten students were Milton Bradley's two daughters, and the first teachers in Springfield were Milton, his wife and his father.[9] MiltonBradley's company's involvement with kindergartens began with the production of "gifts," the term used by Froebel for the geometric wooden play things that he felt were necessary to properly structure children's creative development. Bradley spent months devising the exact shades in which to produce these materials; his final choice of six pigments of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet would remain the standard colors for children's art supplies through the 20th century.[8]

The company’s educational supplies turned out to be a large portion of their income at the turn of the century. They produced supplies any grade school teacher could use, such as toy money, multiplication sticks, and movable clock dials. Milton Bradley continued producing games, particularly parlor games played by adults. They produced “Visit to the Gypsies,” “Word Gardening,” “Happy Days in Old New England,” and “Fortune Telling.” They also created jigsaw puzzles of wrecked vehicles, which were popular among young boys.[5]

When Milton Bradley died in 1911, the company was passed to Robert Ellis, who passed it to Bradley’s son-in-law Robert Ingersoll, who eventually passed it to George Tapley’s son, William.[4] In 1920, Bradley bought out McLoughlin Brothers, which went out of business after John McLoughlin’s death.[7]

Milton Bradley began to decline in the 1920s and fell dramatically in the 1930s during the Depression. There wasn’t money in the country to be spent on board games. The company kept losing money until 1940, when they sunk too low and banks demanded payment on loans.[5]

Desperate to avoid bankruptcy, the board of directors persuaded James J. Shea, a Springfield businessman, to take over presidency of the company. Shea immediately moved to decrease the company’s debt. He began a major renovation of the Milton Bradley plant by burning old inventory that had been accumulating since the turn of the century.[4]

With the outbreak of World War II, Milton Bradley started producing a universal joint created by Shea used on the landing gear of fighter jets. They also reproduced a revised version of their game kits for soldiers, which earned the company $2 million.[5] Milton Bradley didn’t stop creating board games, although they did cut their line from 410 titles to 150. New games were introduced during this time, such as the patriotic “Game of States,” “Chutes & Ladders,” and “Candyland.”[7]

The advent of the television could have threatened the industry, but Shea used it to his advantage.[4] Companies acquired licenses to television shows.[7] In 1959, Milton Bradley released “Concentration,” a memory game based on a television show of the same name.[4]

Milton Bradley celebrated their centennial in 1960 with the rerelease of “The Checkered Game of Life,” which was modernized. It was now simply called “The Game of Life” and the goal was no longer to reach Happy Old Age, but to become a millionaire. “Twister” made its debut in the 1960s as well. Thanks to Johnny Carson’s suggestive comments as Eva Gabor played the game on his show, “Twister” became a phenomenon.[5]

In 1968, James Shea Jr. took over as president of Milton Bradley, succeeding his father. During his presidency, Milton Bradley bought Playskool Mfg. Co. and the E.S. Lowe Company, makers of Yahtzee.[4]

During the 1970s and 1980s, electronic games became popular. Milton Bradley released “Simon” in 1978, which was fairly late in the movement. By 1980, it was their best-selling item.[5]

In 1984, Hasbro, ending 124 years of family ownership, bought out Milton Bradley.[7] Milton Bradley continued to turn out games that capitalized on current trends. The 1990s saw the release of “Gator Golf,” “Crack the Case,” “Mall Madness,” and “13 Dead End Drive.”[5]


  1. ^ Lee Gesmer, Esq., Triumph v Dark Tower: How Two Inventors Won Their Trade Secrets Case Against a Game Giant, 
  2. ^ Jim Francis, Triumph: the Origin of Dark Tower, 
  3. ^ "James J. Shea, 87, Dies; Rescued Milton Bradley From Brink of Bankruptcy". New York Times. January 4, 1977, Tuesday. "James J. Shea, retired board chairman of the Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, Mass., died at a hospital there yesterday. He was 87 years old and a resident of Springfield." 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Milton Bradley Company". Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Milton Bradley Company Information". Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Petrik, Paula. "Exploring U.S. History". Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Whitehall, Bruce (2002). "Game History". Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Milton Bradley Company". Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Milton Bradley Froebel's Kindergarten Gifts". Retrieved April 3, 2011. 

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