Alfred Mosher Butts
April 13, 1899|
Poughkeepsie, New York
|Died||April 4, 1993
Rhinebeck, New York
Alfred Mosher Butts was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on April 13, 1899 to Allison Butts and Arrie Elizabeth Mosher. His father was a lawyer and his mother was a high school teacher. Alfred attended Poughkeepsie High School and graduated in 1917. He was also an amateur artist and six of his drawings were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the early 1930s after working as an architect but now unemployed, Butts set out to design a board game. He studied existing games and found that games fell into three categories: number games such as dice and bingo; move games such as chess and checkers; and word games such as anagrams. Butts was a resident of Jackson Heights, New York, and it was there that the game of Scrabble was invented. To memorialize Butts's importance to the invention of the game, there is a street sign at 35th Avenue and 81st Street in Jackson Heights that is stylized using letters, with their values in Scrabble as a subscript.
Butts decided to create a game that utilized both chance and skill by combining elements of anagrams and crossword puzzles, a popular pastime of the 1920s. Players would draw seven lettered tiles from a pool and then attempt to form words from their seven letters. A key to the game was Butts' analysis of the English language. Butts studied the front page of The New York Times to calculate how frequently each letter of the alphabet was used. He then used each letter's frequency to determine how many of each letter he would include in the game. He included only four "S" tiles so that the ability to make words plural would not make the game too easy.
Butts initially called the game "Lexiko", but later changed the name to "Criss Cross Words", after considering "It", and began to look for a buyer. The game makers he originally contacted rejected the idea, but Butts was tenacious. Eventually, he sold the rights to entrepreneur and game-lover James Brunot, who made a few minor adjustments to the design and renamed the game "Scrabble", a word meaning "to grope frantically" (from the Dutch "Schrabben", to scrape or scratch).
In 1948, the game was trademarked and James Brunot and his wife converted an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgingtown, Connecticut, into a Scrabble factory. In 1949, the Brunots made 2,400 sets, but lost $450. The game, however, was steadily gaining popularity, helped along by orders from Macy's department store. By 1952, the Brunots could no longer keep up with demand and asked licensed game maker Selchow and Righter to market and distribute the game. One hundred and fifty million sets have been sold worldwide and between one and two million sets are sold each year in North America alone.
Alfred's Other Game
Butts later invented another game titled simply Alfred's Other Game; it never achieved the commercial success of Scrabble.
- Lambert, Bruce (April 7, 1993). "Alfred M. Butts, 93, Is Dead; Inventor of SCRABBLE". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- Kershaw, Sarah. "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: JACKSON HEIGHTS;Rewriting The Story Of Scrabble", The New York Times, October 1, 1995; retrieved May 28, 2009.
- Ember, Sydney (July 15, 2011). "For a Bereft Street Corner in Queens, a Red-Letter Day". The New York Times. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
- "Historic Scrabble Sign Makes Triumphant Return To Jackson Heights". Queens Gazette. October 26, 2011. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
- History of SCRABBLE
- "Spell bound". The Guardian. London, UK. 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2009-01-02.