Milton Bradley

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This article is about the board game pioneer. For other uses, see Milton Bradley (disambiguation).
Milton Bradley
Milton bradley portrait.jpg
Born (1836-11-08)November 8, 1836
Vienna, Maine, U.S.
Died May 30, 1911(1911-05-30) (aged 74)
Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Board game manufacturer

Milton Bradley (November 8, 1836 – May 30, 1911) was an American game pioneer, credited by many with launching the board game industry in North America with Milton Bradley Company.

A native of Vienna, Maine, Bradley grew up in a working-class household in Lowell, Massachusetts. After completing high school he found work as a draftsman before enrolling at the Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1856, he secured employment at the Watson Company in Springfield, Massachusetts. After the company was shuttered during the recession of 1858, he entered business for himself as a mechanical draftsman and patent agent. Later, Bradley pursued lithography and in 1860, he set up the first color lithography shop in Springfield, Massachusetts. Eventually, Bradley moved forward with an idea he had for a board game which he called The Checkered Game of Life, an early version of what later became The Game of Life.

In 2004, he was posthumously inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame along with George Ditomassi of Milton Bradley Company. Through the 20th century the company he founded in 1860, Milton Bradley Company dominated the production of American games, with titles like Candyland, Operation, and Battleship. The company is now a subsidiary of Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro.

The Checkered Game of Life: The launch of the Milton Bradley Company[edit]

1872 advertisement

Milton Bradley's ventures into the production of board games began with a large failure in his lithograph business. When he attempted to print and sell copies of the presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln, Bradley initially met with great success. After they were released for sale, a customer contacted him calling it a fraud and demanding his money back because the picture was not an accurate representation of Lincoln, who had decided to grow his distinctive beard after Bradley's print was published. Suddenly, the prints were worthless, and Bradley burned those remaining in his possession.[1] In search of a lucrative alternative project in which to employ his drafting skills, Bradley found inspiration from an imported board game given to him by a friend. Concluding that he could produce and market a similar game to American consumers, Milton Bradley released The Checkered Game of Life in the winter of 1860.

The game proved an instant success with the public. Bradley personally sold his first run of several hundred copies in one two-day period in New York; by 1861, consumers had bought over 45,000 copies. The Checkered Game of Life followed a structure similar to its American and British predecessors, with players spinning a teetotum to advance to corresponding squares. The squares each represented a social virtue or vice such as "influence" or "poverty", with the former earning a player points and the latter retarding his progress. However, even the most seemingly secure positions like "Fat Office" held the accompanying dangers of "Prison", "Ruin", and "Suicide".[2] The player who first accumulated one hundred points won the game.

The original game board of The Checkered Game of Life.

While the structure of play used in The Checkered Game of Life differed little from previous board games, Bradley's game embraced a radically different concept of success. Earlier children's games, such as the popular Mansion of Happiness developed in Puritan Massachusetts, were concerned entirely with providing an attractive venue from which to promote moral virtue. But Bradley preferred to define success in secular business terms consistent with America's emerging focus on "the causal relationship between character and wealth." This approach, which depicted life as a quest for accomplishment in which personal virtues provided a means to an end, rather than a point of focus, complemented America's burgeoning fascination with obtaining wealth in the years following the Civil War. This game and later board games produced by the Milton Bradley Company also complemented the nation's increased amount of leisure time. Many Americans found board games an excellent use of leisure time, leading to great financial success for the company. [3]

Final years[edit]

Though The Checkered Game of Life and its several successive variations accounted for Bradley's financial success, board games did not constitute his primary focus in life. Once his pecuniary future had been secured, Bradley turned his attention to a series of progressive scientific and educational causes. Having met Edward Wiebe, an early American proponent of the kindergarten movement, in 1869, Bradley began to explore the ideas of the German romantic philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel. Fröbel challenged prevalent notions for educating children, which emphasized recitation, rote memorization, and the teaching of factual information from a child's earliest schooling. Believing that these practices – which attempted to instill an adult mentality in children – ran contrary to both effective teaching and a child's natural impulses, Fröbel suggested a pattern of education that focused on the child's vantage point. Fröbel's theory stressed stimulation of aesthetic and sensory perception, kept lessons brief, presented them in simple terms suitable for a child's consumption, and incorporated instinctual preferences for play and spontaneity. Froebel also used "gifts," which were objects to handle, such as geometric wooden blocks or balls and used in self-directed free play. He also used "occupations," which were materials to learn skills, later arts and crafts and also circles which included mother songs and finger plays. A year after Bradley met Wiebe, the Milton Bradley Company published Wiebe's book "The Paradise of Childhood: A Manual for Self-Instruction in Freidrich Froebel's Educational Principles, and a Practical Guide to Kinder-Gartners," which describes a list of 20 Froebel gifts.

Enthralled with Fröbel's ideas, Bradley made distinct contributions to bringing them to prominence with the American public. Beginning in 1869, he published educational tracts and pamphlets on the virtues of Fröbel's kindergarten system. His company produced two magazines on the subject, Kindergarten News (later Kindergarten Review), and Work and Play. Though neither produced a profit, compelling Bradley's business partners to withdraw their support, Bradley persevered, publishing the magazines until the end of his life. Bradley's lifelong friend, George Tapley, bought out his business partner's shares so Bradley could continue manufacturing his educational materials. By the 1890s, the Milton Bradley Company had introduced the first watercolour sets with standardized colours and education games such as Bradley's Word Builder and Bradley's Sentence Builder. The Milton Bradley Company was also the first to release crayon packages with standardized colors, forerunning the better-known Crayola Crayons and Artista Art Supplies of the Binney & Smith Company. Bradley's interest in art education also led him to produce a new color wheel for color instruction and publish four works about teaching colors.

Bradley married twice in his lifetime, first to Villona Eaton in 1860. They had no children together. He then married again to Ellen Thayer in 1869. Bradley and Ms. Thayer had two daughters together: Alice L. Bradley, born c. 1881, and Florence L. Bradley, born c. 1875. He died on May 30, 1911 in Springfield.

Books and inventions[edit]


  • Color in the Schoolroom, 1890
  • Color in the Kindergarten, 1893
  • Elementary Color, 1895
  • Water Colors in the Schoolroom, 1900


  • Bradley established a set of rules to play croquet in 1866.
  • Bradley was one of the marketers of the zoetrope, a spinning slotted drum with pre-printed images to create the illusion of motion pictures.
  • According to the inscription on at least one example, Bradley was awarded the patent for the one-arm paper cutter on June 9th 1914


  1. ^ James J. Shea, The Milton Bradley Story (New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1973), 10.
  2. ^ David Wallace Adams and Victor Edmonds, "Making Your Move: The Educational Significance of the American Board Game, 1832 to 1904," History of Education Quarterly 17.4 (Winter 1977): 376.
  3. ^ Deborah S. Ing, “Bradley, Milton", American National Biography, Feb 2000.
   Deborah S. Ing, “Bradley, Milton", American National Biography, Feb 2000.

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