November 8, 1836|
Vienna, Maine, U.S.
|Died||May 30, 1911
Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Occupation||Board game manufacturer|
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 Candy Land, 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
Milton Bradley's ventures into the production of board games began with a large failure in his lithograph business. When he printed and sold an image of the little-known Republican presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln, Bradley initially met with great success. But a customer demanded his money back because the picture was not an accurate representation -- Lincoln 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. Looking for a lucrative alternate project, Bradley found inspiration from an imported board game a friend gave him, concluding that he could produce and market a similar game to American consumers. In the winter of 1860, Bradley released The Checkered Game of Life.
The game proved an instant success. Bradley personally sold his first run of several hundred copies in a two-day visit to New York; by 1861, consumers had bought more than 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 squares representing social virtues and vices, such as "influence" or "poverty", with the former earning a player points and the latter retarding his progress. But even the most seemingly secure positions, like "Fat Office," held dangers -- "Prison", "Ruin", and "Suicide". The first player to accumulate 100 points won the game.
While the structure of play in The Checkered Game of Life differed little from previous board games, Bradley's game embraced a radically different concept of success. Earlier games, such as the popular Mansion of Happiness created in Puritan Massachusetts, focused entirely on promoting moral virtue. Bradley defined success in secular business terms, depicting life as a quest for accomplishment with personal virtues as a means to that end. This complemented America's burgeoning fascination with obtaining wealth, and with "the causal relationship between character and wealth," in the years following the Civil War. The game -- and later board games produced by the Milton Bradley Company -- also fit the nation's increasing amount of leisure time, leading to great financial success for the company. 
Though The Checkered Game of Life and its several successive variations won Bradley financial success, board games were not his primary focus in life. Once his fortune was secured, Bradley turned to a series of 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 factual information from a child's earliest schooling. Believing that these attempts to instill an adult mentality in children ran contrary to a child's natural impulses and abilities, Fröbel argued for educating from the child's vantage point. He stressed stimulating aesthetic and sensory perception, keeping lessons brief, presenting them in simple terms, and inviting the child's instinctual preferences for play and spontaneity. He encouraged using "gifts" -- objects to handle, such as geometric wooden blocks and balls -- for self-directed free play, and "occupations," materials for learning skills, such as arts and crafts. Fröbel also promoted participative circles, where children learned songs and finger plays. In 1870, 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."
Bradley also published tracts and pamphlets on Fröbel's kindergarten system. His company produced two magazines, Kindergarten News (later Kindergarten Review), and Work and Play. Neither was profitable, and Bradley's business partners withdrew their support, but Bradley persevered, publishing both magazines until the end of his life. His friend George Tapley bought out the partner's shares so that Bradley could continue manufacturing educational materials. By the 1890s, the Milton Bradley Company had introduced the first standardized watercolor sets, and educational games such as Bradley's Word Builder and Bradley's Sentence Builder. Bradley was also the first to release crayon packages with standardized colors, a forerunner of the Binney & Smith Company's Crayola Crayons and Artista Art Supplies. Bradley's interest in art education also led him to produce a new color wheel and publish four books about teaching colors.
In 1860, Bradley married Villona Eaton. They had no children. In 1869, he married Ellen Thayer, with whom he had two daughters: Alice L. Bradley, born c. 1881, and Florence L. Bradley, born c. 1875. Milton Bradley died on May 30, 1911, in Springfield.
Books and inventions
- 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
- James J. Shea, The Milton Bradley Story (New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1973), 10.
- 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.
- Deborah S. Ing, “Bradley, Milton", American National Biography, Feb 2000. http://www.anb.org/articles/10/10-00177.html
- Bradley, Milton (1892). "The Color Question Again". Science (Moses King) 19 (477): 175–176. doi:10.1126/science.ns-19.477.175-a.
- Ing, Deborah (February 2000). "Bradley, Milton" (Reference Database – registration required). American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
- Lepore, Jill. "The Meaning of Life: What Milton Bradley Started". The New Yorker, 21 May 2007, pp. 38–43..
Deborah S. Ing, “Bradley, Milton", American National Biography, Feb 2000.
- Milton Bradley at Find a Grave
- Milton Bradley: A Playful Legacy – slideshow by Life magazine
- The Vienna Maine Historical Society has purchased Bradley's birthplace and is in the process of relocating to the site, where it plans to open a small museum.