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The History of Scrabble

Guest Author - Megan Romer

In 1931, an out-of-work architect named Alfred Mosher Butts invented a game called Lexico. The game consisted simply of 100 tiles and no game board. The object of the game was to make words as long as possible while drawing and discarding from your hand (much like Rummy, only with words instead of melds).

After trying unsuccessfully to persuade any major game manufacturers to look at his game, Butts realized that he might need to modify it a bit. He added a game board and assigned each letter a specific point value. He added the blank tiles and the "premium squares": the squares that multiply the values of words and letters. He called this modified version "Criss-Cross Words". He manufactured them completely by hand and sold them for $2.

In 1947, a man named James Brunot contacted Butts, seeking the right to distribute the game. By this time, Butts had ceased production on the game. The two men struck a deal, paying Butts a royalty and letting Brunot deal with the distribution and manufacturing.

Brunot made the letter tiles himself, but ordered the game boards from a company called Selchow and Righter. He and his wife assembled the games in their living room and barely made any profits over the first few years of manufacture.

Suddenly, in the summer of 1952, Scrabble reached its tipping point and went from a cult favorite to a downright hit! No one's sure quite why this happened, but the most common story is that an executive at Macy's Department Store, in New York City, played the game while on vacation and ordered it onto the shelves at the store when he returned.

In any case, instead of making a few hundred sets a week, suddenly the Brunots were making upwards of 6,000, well beyond their means of manufacture, and sold the operation to Selchow and Righter. By fall, they had sold 37,000 Scrabble sets. In 1953, they sold 800,000. In 1954, 4,000,000.

In 1986, Selchow and Righter was bought out by a game company called Coleco, who were in turn bought out by Hasbro/Milton Bradley in 1989.

Alfred Mosher Butts passed away at age 94 in 1993.

For the full story, check out these excellent books: