Scrabble is one of the most popular games in the world, with over 100 million games sold in 121 countries, and available in 29 languages (Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrain). Scrabble has been around for almost 75 years now, and is still going strong.
The year is 1931, and the depression is going strong. Alfred Mosher Butts, a local architect, lost his job. With no job and little money and nothing but time, he started toying with his hobby – word games. He had an idea, to develop a game that was part skill, part luck. He started counting letters on the pages of the New York Times to determine the frequency they were used in everyday language. Once he finished his game, which he called Lexico, he applied for a patent. He was turned down. He was also turned down by Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley for manufacture of his game.
Not one to give up, over the next 5 years, he made over 200 games himself which he gave to family and friends, and sold what he could. Lexico was not a success however, and he decided to combine the game he had developed with a game board which would allow players to combine words in the same manner as a crossword. Again he applied for patents and manufacturers, and again he was turned down.
Mr. Butts decided to put the game aside and until after World War II he put no further effort into it.
One of the original owners of the game, James Brunot, contacted Mr. Butts several years later and said he thought the game should be marketed, and wanted to do the work. They came to an agreement with Mr. Brunot manufacturing the game, and Mr. Butts receiving royalties.
With a few minor changes, simplified rules, and a new name Scrabble was trademarked, and the manufacturing began in the living room of the Brunot home. Soon after, the Chairman of Macy’s played the game while on Christmas vacation. He loved the game so much that upon return to work, he requested that several copies of the game be sent up to his office, only to find that Macy’s did not stock the game. This was soon rectified and Macy’s developed a promotional campaign for Scrabble, which sky-rocked the game into instant popularity. As the popularity of the game spread however, the Brunots knew they could not keep up with demand.
The rights to Scrabble were licensed to Selchow and Righter, and through various company sales and mergers, Scrabble eventually came to be in the possession of Milton Bradley, 53 years after turning the game down.
Today, there are tournaments played all over the world with the first Scrabble world championship played in 1991. Mr. Butts lived to see his brainchild, Scrabble, become the most popular work game in the world, and played it until his death in April, 1993.