Somewhere beneath southern Minnesota lie the remnants of about 40,000 board games once created and sold as an antiestablishment alternative to mega-selling Monopoly.
Manufactured in Mankato, the game Anti-Monopoly found success in the mid-1970s amid America's rampant inflation and institutional distrust. Then, much like in Monopoly, the ownership class quashed the competition.
Parker Brothers, then a division of Golden Valley-based General Mills, obtained a federal court order to have the game buried. The saga remains a prominent chapter in the history of Monopoly, the most popular modern board game.
Reader Mike Trieschman learned of the Anti-Monopoly graveyard in a recent PBS documentary about Monopoly's history. The retired firefighter and lifelong Mankato resident wanted to know the location of the burial site, and who manufactured the games.
"We thought, 'God dang, they destroyed all those games in Mankato?'" Trieschman said. "I thought I knew this town well, so I wondered where that could be."
He sought answers from Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's reader-powered community reporting project.
Anti-Monopoly was the creation of Ralph Anspach, who in 1973 was teaching economics at San Francisco State University. Anspach was a German Jew who had immigrated to New York with his family in 1938, according to Mary Pilon's 2015 history of Monopoly, "The Monopolists."
Anspach played Monopoly in Czechoslovakia as a child, Pilon wrote. Later, in Berkeley in the early 1970s, he played with his wife and sons. But with an oil crisis developing and consumer suffering on the rise, the game's message seemed less fun.
"The board game rewarded something in play that hurt people in reality," Anspach thought, according to Pilon's account. Anspach was struck by a realization: "He could create an anti-monopoly game of his own." With help from his family, he set out developing a game that rewarded breaking up monopolies, not building them.
Like Monopoly, Anti-Monopoly is a square board with spaces around the edges representing conglomerates — oil and gas companies, steel and tire makers, utilities and railroads. It was complete with play money, "mailbox cards" and "indictment chips."
Instead of buying up assets and charging rent, players "take the role of federal case workers bringing indictments against each monopolized business in an attempt to return the state of the board to a free market system," according to the game's Wikipedia page.
The game gained national press attention, and soon orders outpaced the ability to produce them, Pilon wrote. That's where the Mankato Corporation came in.
Founded in 1919 as a paper box manufacturer, the Mankato Corporation by the '70s had about 175 employees and was run by Russ Foster, the founder's son.
John Rottunda, who became company president in 1977 after Foster shifted to the board chairman role, recalled that a Wayzata-based sales rep for the game industry made the initial connection between Anspach and Foster.
"I think he came to us looking for a manufacturer," Rottunda said.
Glen Taylor, a longtime Mankato businessman and owner of the Star Tribune, said he did regular business with Mankato Corporation in the '70s. He remembers visiting the plant and being shown copies of the Anti-Monopoly game.
"They were excited to be making it; it was a big deal then," Taylor said.
Reversal of fortune
Parker Brothers noticed. The company had made a massive worldwide hit out of Monopoly after purchasing its trademark in 1935. Parker Brothers became part of General Mills in 1968, as leaders of the rapidly diversifying Minnesota company sought "new sources of profit," the Minneapolis Tribune reported at the time.
Anspach received a letter in early 1974 from Parker Brothers, demanding he change his game's name, according to Pilon's book. Anspach refused.
Parker Brothers sued Anspach for trademark infringement. The firm won an early round of the litigation when a California federal judge ordered all copies of Anti-Monopoly destroyed. Anspach had sold some 410,000 copies by 1977, and the company, it seems, wanted to make him pay.
On July 5, 1977, as news cameras rolled, "about 40,000 copies of the games, some already assembled in plastic-wrapped boxes, others still in pieces, were trucked ... to the landfill, where they were ground beneath the tracks of a bulldozer and buried," according to a story the next day in the Mankato Free Press. A photograph shows Foster, his back to the camera, standing atop a pile of trashed games.
Parker Brothers "wanted to make it theatrical," Pilon said in a phone interview. Pilon, who was a consultant for the PBS documentary, interviewed Anspach extensively for her book.
Three years later, Anspach and Foster returned to the site. A federal court had overturned the order to destroy the games, and Anspach wanted to reclaim a couple as souvenirs. "Six hours of digging in near zero cold failed to turn up any," the Free Press reported on Jan. 24, 1980.
The legal case continued to turn in Anspach's favor.
He and his lawyer established that the trademarked Monopoly game Parker Brothers bought in the '30s from Charles Darrow was itself heavily influenced by the Landlord's Game, patented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie. A feminist and progressive, she based her game on lessons from a 19th-century economist who abhorred private land ownership altogether.
Anti-Monopoly is reborn
That irony notwithstanding, Anspach's court victory came too late to save the unsold copies of Anti-Monopoly. Anspach won a settlement from Parker Brothers and regained full use of the Anti-Monopoly name. Subsequently, Mankato Corporation for a time printed an updated version called Anti-Monopoly II.
Anti-Monopoly is now produced by San Francisco-based University Games. Hasbro retains the Monopoly trademark, though it's been the subject of frequent litigation. Pilon wrote that Anspach and University Games found the game difficult to distribute widely because of agreements between Hasbro and top game retailers.
Anspach died last year, and Russ Foster died in 1989. Rottunda said Mankato Corporation, still in business under different ownership and now called Mankato Packaging, did not suffer financially from what he called "a unique situation."
"It was a contract," Rottunda said. "We didn't have a stake in the success of the game. I know it was sad for Ralph."
So where is Minnesota's Anti-Monopoly graveyard?
Blue Earth County Historical Society Executive Director Jessica Potter dug up the address (as well as the old Free Press clips). Once headquartered at 600 Summit Av., the former landfill is east of Hwy. 169 and north of Hwy. 14. The area has since been redeveloped into an industrial park, but humps of earth from its landfill past still rise from the southern Minnesota landscape.
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