In more than 120 countries, millions of people play Scrabble in varying forms every day. Whether it’s the classic board game version or on the Scrabble GO app, there’s no wrong way to play Scrabble. But how did this word game come to be, and what made it a cultural phenomenon that has lasted generations the same way as Monopoly or Connect Four? Let’s take a look at the history of the world’s favorite word game.
It didn’t take a team of people to come up with Scrabble, but rather the work of one unemployed man. New York native Alfred Mosher Butts was working as an architect during the 1930s and went he lost his job, decided to set out and make a board game. After realizing that there wasn’t a word game that involved some luck, as they were all skill-based only at the time.
Because of this, Butts came up with a board that featured bonus points for having good timing, introducing the double/triple word and letter spaces. Butts achieved perfection on his first try in terms of how the game was played (including avoiding too many plural words). The one thing that Butts couldn’t get right on the first try, though, was the name.
Scrabble was originally known as Criss-Cross Words, and even that wasn’t the first game that Butts came up with. Before Criss-Cross Words/Scrabble, Butts came up with a game called Lexiko. Lexiko took some more elements from other board games of the time and made just one board at a time upon request.
It was in 1938 that customers found out the Butts was no longer making Lexiko, and was working on Criss-Cross Words. After going back to the likes of Milton Bradley and Parker Bros to pitch his newest game, Butts was turned down once again. Finally, Butts got in touch with James Brunot, an entrepreneur who found the game fascinating.
The prototype for the board was there, and Brunot only made some minor tweaks before coming up with the finalized version of Scrabble with its now-famous name. At first, Scrabble was losing money for Brunot after his acquisition, but Brunot stayed true to his investment and kept plugging away until word of mouth started to make Scrabble a popular game nationwide.
In 1952, just three years after Scrabble had been released to the public, the game was in such high demand that Brunot had to enlist the help of a larger distributor to get the game into as many households as possible. Stores were also clamoring to have Scrabble on their shelves before Christmastime, including the likes of retail giant Macy’s.
Throughout the 1950s, millions of Scrabble sets had sold, and by the time the 1970s came around, it was an iconic name in board games. Businesswoman Harriet T. Righter acquired the trademark for Scrabble, which she retained until her death in 1982. Two years later, Coleco (known for its video game dealings), got the trademark, but then soon folded. Since then, Hasbro has owned the Scrabble trademark.
Over the course of Scrabble’s life, there have been some changes to the rules, but most of them have been minor. This includes determining who goes first, as well as the challenge system. The thing that has changed the most with Scrabble is the dictionary. Originally, Scrabble players used a standard English dictionary, but now there are multiple dictionaries dedicated to Scrabble alone. This includes the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, which was first published in 1978 and has had multiple editions ever since.
To this day, more than one million Scrabble boards are sold each year in North America alone. All in all, there have been well over 100 million boards to come off the shelves, showing that Scrabble is one of the titans of the board game industry.