Monopoly – I Did Not Know This!

 (You’ll never look at the game the  same way again!)

Starting in 1941, an increasing number of British Airmen found themselves as the  involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about  for ways and means to facilitate their escape…

Now  obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and  accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also  showing the locations of ‘safe  houses’ where a POW on-the-lam  could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps  had some real drawbacks — they make a lot of noise when you open and  fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into  mush.

Someone in  MI-5 (similar to America ‘s OSS ) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It’s durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded  as many times as needed, and makes no noise  whatsoever.

At that  time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had  perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John  Waddington, Ltd.  When approached by the government, the firm was  only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure  coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular  American board game, Monopoly.  As it happened, ‘games and  pastimes’ was a category of item qualified for insertion into ‘CARE  packages’, dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of  war.

Under the  strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old  workshop on the grounds of Waddington’s, a group of sworn-to-secrecy  employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of  Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were regional system).   When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they  would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing  piece.

As long as  they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington’s  also managed  to add :
1.    A playing  token, containing a small magnetic compass
    A two-part  metal file that could easily be screwed together
    Useful  amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French  currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly  money!

British  and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first  mission, how to identify a ‘rigged’ Monopoly set — by means of a tiny  red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch,  located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the  estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated  one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets.   Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British  Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still  another, future war.

The story  wasn’t declassified until 2007, when the surviving  craftsmen from  Waddington’s, as well as the firm itself, were  finally honored in  a public ceremony.

It’s  always nice when you can play that ‘Get Out of Jail’ Free’  card!

I realize  most of you are (probably) too young to have any personal connection to  WWII (Dec. ’41 to Aug. ’45), but this is still  interesting.


(See for more on this story. – Ed.)