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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Milton Bradley and Chess

Civil War era set
     Milton Bradley (November 8, 1836 – May 30, 1911) was an American business magnate, game pioneer and publisher, credited by many with launching the board game industry in North America with his Milton Bradley Company. 
     Born in Vienna, Maine Bradley grew up in a working-class household in Lowell, Massachusetts after the family moved there in 1847. After completing high school in 1854 he found work as a draftsman and patent agent before enrolling at the Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was unable to finish his studies after moving with his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where he could not find gainful employment. 
     In 1856, he left home and got a job in the locomotive works of the Blanchard and Kimball in Springfield, Massachusetts. After the company was closed during the recession of 1858, he entered business for himself as a mechanical draftsman and patent agent. 
     In 1859 Bradley went to Providence, Rhode Island where he spent several weeks learning the craft of lithography then bought a press and started his own business in Springfield. He was initially successful when he sold an image of the little-known Republican presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln. But then a problem arose when, after the print was published, Lincoln took the advice of eleven-year old Grace Bedell, who wrote Lincoln that he “would look a great deal better” if only he would let his beard grow. That meant the prints were worthless and Bradley burned those that remained.  Rather than close up shop, in the winter of 1860 Bradley released a game which he had been working on for some time: The Checkered Game of Life which was based on a game from Europe he had been given; in later years it was named just The Game of Life. One newspaper described the game as being “intended to present to the minds of the young the various vices and virtues with which they will come in contact…and illustrate the effects of each, in a manner that will make a lasting impression."      
The Checkered Game of Life
     The game was an instant success. The players moved using a teetotum. Bradley did not use dice because in those days dice were considered to be wicked and fit only for gamblers. The teetotum determined the 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.
     During the Civil War many soldiers engaged in off-duty entertainment including poker or dice games while others amused themselves by reading or playing chess or checkers. The source of many of these diversions were games by Milton Bradley. 
     Bradley had intended to volunteer for the Union Army himself, but Captain A. B. Dyer, Superintendent of the Springfield Armory, persuaded Bradley that his talents would be better used as a draftsman at the armory than as a private in the ranks. And so he ended up working nights at the arsenal and during the day printed copies of his new game. 
     Bradley also sold “Games for Soldiers,” a set of nine games that included backgammon, chess, checkers, dominoes, and The Checkered Game of Life. The set was billed in holiday wartime advertisements as “just the thing to send to the boys in camp or hospital for a Christmas present.” The games were packaged in a small box weighing a few ounces and could be sent by mail, postpaid, to any address for just one dollar. 
     The photo below was taken in 1864 just before the Wilderness Campaign and shows then Colonel (later Major General) Martin T. McMahon, assistant adjutant-general of the Army of the Potomac's Sixth Corps, playing the black pieces against another officer.

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