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After being laid off from his job at an architecture firm
in 1931, Alfred Mosher Butts fell on hard times—he was
out of work for quite some time when he decided to get creative.
With his newfound spare time he thought he would try and invent
a game. He did some research and found that there were three
basic types of games, those based on numbers like cards or
dice, board games like checkers and chess, and games based
on words and letters.
A lifelong crossword puzzle lover, Butts began working on
a word game, first producing a game he called Lexiko. This
game would be played by selecting nine letter tiles at random
and forming words from them. He tried to sell the game to
some established manufacturers, but he was rejected.
He continued to develop the game, taking the number of letter
tiles drawn at a time to seven, and adding a board that assigned
point values to each letter based on how common their usage
was in the English language. He called this version Criss-Cross
Words. Again, no one was interested.
Later Butts was re-hired by his architecture firm, but he
continued to work on his game. It was developing a small following,
selling in small quantities, and one of the players, James
Brunot, was impressed. Brunot approached Butts about buying
the rights to the game in 1947. Butts would receive royalties,
but Brunot would manage the game's production. He also made
a few adjustments, adding new rules such as the 50-point rule
for playing all seven tiles at once, changing the board colors,
and calling the game "Scrabble."
Brunot produced the first sets of Scrabble out of an abandoned
schoolhouse he rented with his wife in Dodgingtown, Connecticut,
where he and friends made approximately 12 games per hour
and stamped out letters on wood tiles, one at a time.
Sales of Scrabble lagged for a few years, but in 1952, the
game got its "big break." Macy's ordered a large stock of
the game and its popularity soared. In 1953, more than a million
sets of Scrabble were sold, and 3.8 million sold the following
year. Shortly thereafter, Brunot licensed Selchow & Righter
Co. to market and distribute Scrabble in the United States
and Canada. In 1972, Brunot sold the trademark for Scrabble
to that company.
In 1986, Selchow & Righter was bought by Coleco Industries,
which declared bankruptcy in 1989. That year Hasbro Inc. bought
Scrabble and other Coleco assets. Today, Scrabble ranks as
the second best-selling game in U. S. history (just behind
"Monopoly"). The game is even played competitively, with the
first National Scrabble Championship tournament having taken
place in 1978.
Butts died in 1993, and did not become rich from his invention,
but he was able to enjoy the worldwide popularity of Scrabble,
which continues to sell 3 million sets worldwide each year
in 23 different languages.