Monday, September 23, 2013
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FIRMS OF GEORGE S. PARKER & COMPANY, THE PARTNERSHIP OF PARKER BROTHERS AND PARKER BROTHERS, INCORPORATED
[This account of the founding of Parker Brothers was written by George Swinnerton Parker himself. The typescript is undated, and ends abruptly. Presumably Parker, who considered himself also a poet and journalist, would have completed and polished his narrative had he found the opportunity. It was not meant to be seen by the public, but surely enough time has passed that the author, who died sixty-one years ago this week, would forgive me for making it available.]
Believing that the history of the business of Parker Brothers may be of interest many years from now to my successors, I am writing the following to present facts to them for their private perusal and not for publication.
The entire business has its foundation in a fondness for games, which I possessed throughout my boyhood and in the origination and development of a game which amused my playmates, and which I called the game of "Banking." While in the High School at Medford, Mass. where my family lived at the time, our home was a large brown house, containing many rooms (17 or 18, I believe) and here after the death of my father in 1877 we continued to live until 1884 with my mother, brothers (Edward Hegeman and Charles Hanford Parker) and my Uncle Charles and Aunt Abigail, both of whom were elderly and unmarried.
Though born in Salem in the old family mansion of my great-grandfather and of my grand-father, Wm. Balch Parker, the family had moved to Lexington when I was two years of age, and from thence to Medford, as my father a few years before and up to the time of his death, had engaged in the real estate business in Boston. Lexington I always loved, for it had the appeal of country spaces and a large house and lawn, but Medford on account of its low land and death and sickness in my family never appealed to me. However, in the house in Medford, I had many a happy evening and afternoon with the boys from uptown, generally, Arthur and Louis Wellington, now prominent in Boston, and Joseph H. Dyer, who for some years was later employed by my brother and myself in my business in Salem.
One of the rooms on the lower floor, (Medford) was called the Red Room, because the furniture was upholstered in a shade of red, the carpet was red in color and there were some accessories, which gave it appropriately that name. Here we played many games- Authors, Around the World, an old board game made, I do not know by whom, and here in the year 1882 and more particularly in 1883, I developed from the old game of "Everlasting" which we sometimes played, an improved game played with lettered cards. In the game I introduced a bank from which players borrowed in lots of 5, 10 and 20 cards and paid interest of 10% for their borrowing and use of the capital in their speculations, each speculation being captured by the duplication of the original card played. There were special partnerships by which one player went into partnership with another, who needed capital, and took a large share of his profits and at a given time the game ended and the "richest" player won the game. It really was an exciting game and was immensely enjoyed by the boys who all encouraged in me the thought that it should be published.
I was in the high school then, but at some period in the late summer, I think of 1883, I called upon Lee & Shepherd in Boston, then publishers of books for boys and asked them if they would like to publish the game. Mr. Lee (I think it was) was very kind and courteous, but was not interested, as they published only books, but he introduced me to a Mr. Walter Baker, since a successful publisher of plays in Boston, and then a young man, who asked my [sic] why I did not publish it myself. To Mr. Baker I am really indebted for this thought, but some time in the autumn I went to work taking the sum of approximately $50 which I had earned by selling currents [sic] from our garden (where we had a great quantity of fruit, as my father was much interested in horticulture during his life) and went about the business of preparing the game for publication. I first wrote with great care a copy of the rules. The rules are at this writing in the first great book called our "Archives", the only book at this writing.
After seeing several printers I contracted with Rand, Avery & Co. then famous printers, on the corner of Franklin and Federal Streets, Boston, who printed the cards and boxed them for me in rather too tight, square boxes, bearing a bronze label. The game consisted of 100 cards and was to sell for 50¢. I think I paid then 8¢ a pack and the first edition was 500 copies. The games were completed and were delivered to me in Medford late in November, about Thanksgiving time. When they came, it seemed quite a quantity to dispose of, but just three weeks before Christmas I told the Principal at the High School that I would be absent three weeks selling the game, which I had published and he, Mr. Dame, gave his consent and on Monday morning early I began my first selling of the game of "Banking" in the City of Boston. I sold the games at $4.00 per dozen to the retailer and $3.00 per dozen to the wholesaler.
One of my first and most important customers was Richard Schwartz, brother of F. A. O. Schwarz of New York, who had a large toy store on Washington Street Boston, as department stores did not then make much of a feature of such goods. Horace Partridge & Co. was a famous house on Hanover Street and to Mr. Partridge, a curious but kind old man, I sold, I think, the alarming quantity of 3 dozen and collected the money when I delivered the goods, which was my habit.
Having been successful in Boston I ventured far afield to Providence and went down with a large suitcase filled with the games of "Banking" on a train one morning. I prepared a definite plan of campaign and succeeded in interesting in small quantities most of the dealers whom I approached. At nightfall, I had sold out my valise full of games and returned happy to Medford. I then went to Worcester with good, but not quite as good results, and finally came to Salem, where my brother Charles had engaged in partnership with Winchester Smith in the business of Oils and occupied one of the old historic warehouses on Derby Wharf. I remember taking my large case of games to the room of his boarding house on Federal Street, near the corner of Washington, leaving the games, most of them, in the room and taking a small quantity in a smaller bag, going forth to see the trade. I was very successful selling Merrill & Mackintire, then the leading stationers and others along the street, and at night when my brother Charles returned, he was astonished to find the suitcase empty, and that I had disposed profitably of all the stock. By Christmas Eve, to the surprise of my family I had disposed of all but a dozen or two copies of the edition of 500 games and had made a considerable profit for my endeavors.
Having been successful with one game and having attracted the attention of some of my friends in Medford, I added two games, - The Game of "Baker's Dozen" a small board game which was never very successful; and the game of "Famous Men" devised by Mr. Morrison, my school teacher, and played like Authors; but as the period of my school life was coming to an end and as none of the family thought seriously of the game business as a permanent vocation for me, after finishing the High School, where I graduated President of my class, I took a position as a cub-editor in the Commercial Bulletin of Boston, then owned by the Senior Curtis Guild. I thought and my family thought at the time that I had certain literary possibilities and that Journalism might be a good profession for me.
I sold some of the games that autumn, but the majority of them stayed with me, as I had no time in connection with my newspaper days for which I received the amazing sum of $3 a week. I enjoyed being in the editorial atmosphere, however, with Franklin P. Bennett, Frederick H. Page (now a DD, and always a fast friend), Curtis Guild, Jr. (later Governor) and last but not least Gaylon Stone (now a wealthy Banker) and Wm. McNeary who became a Democratic ward politician and who was the only free trader in our otherwise strictly Republican atmosphere, but I did not like it, was not suited for it, and furthermore, became very ill with a more or less catarrhal and bronichial [sic] condition and was ordered out in June 1885 by my physician, Dr. Sullivan of Malden. Gradually I engaged and continued in the game business. The family in the meantime moved to Salem. In 1886 I developed the business a little more strongly, though it was very small and very little was done except in the autumn season.
I exchanged games with E. I. Horsman of New York, then the great wholesale toy dealer and publisher, and increased my line sufficiently to make it worth while in a small way, though when the Commercial Bulletin offered me $10 or $12 a week to return if I would return, and later the Boston Advertiser offered me $16 a week (Mr. Bennett then being Editor-In-Chief) I had to consider the latter question seriously, as it was more then [sic] my income from games at that period.
My brother, Charles, encouraged me to keep upon my course and when the Christmas season of 1886 had ended, I was permanently launched into the game business as a game publishers, as a permanent vocation, but it was very hard sledding indeed, for the great concern of the McLoughlin Brothers overwhelmed the country with their goods and the sale of games was smaller and more difficult than at the present time. It was some time in the late spring of 1887 that I made my first coup and really placed the business on its way towards a greatly increased prosperity and a real livelihood. Jasperate Singer of New York, a brilliant man, went suddenly into the game and toy business as a competitor to McLoughlin Brothers. He had been a successful man in other business, was a typical New Yorker and had decided to enter competition with McLoughlin Brothers. Financially he was able to do this and he made rapidly (it must have been by very intensive work) a beautiful line of A B C Blocks (wood with lithograph labels pasted on them in colors) and a number of games, which I considered inferior to my own, but which with Picture Puzzles, constituted a sizeable and attractive line. There was also a Toy Theatre or two. So, when in New York City in the spring, finding the importance of Mr. Singer's line and how insignificant mine was to interest the dealers, a brilliant and daring thought came to me. I spent my nights at the home of my Cousin, Mr. Daniel A. Hegeman, in Brooklyn and on one of the nights that I was there, I retired early to my room and worked such intelligence as I had to the utmost, evolving finally the idea of the going to Mr. Singer and asking him to make me New England wholesale agent for his line. In the middle of the night I waked up with my head full of the idea and paced the room. In so doing I stepped upon some cent pieces, which had evidently dropped from my pocket and having at the same time decided exactly on my program and that I would depart at an early hour in the morning and go over to Manhattan, I picked up the coins, put them in my pocket and saved them for many years as a souvenir, or as lucky pennies.
With much determination at about 9 o'clock the next morning in New York, I bearded Mr. Singer in his den on 31st St., New York and at once attacked him upon the subject of my proposal. He was evidently a very surprised and somewhat amused gentleman. I was 20 years of age, tall, thin, and pale, but full of determination. My proposal was that I should buy from him all of his line which interested me, put it with my own, obtaining specially low prices from him and have the exclusive sale in the six New England States. This arrangement I succeeded in closing with him in the few hours of the morning, he evidently trusting me on account of my evident sincerity and without much knowledge of my finances and that afternoon I dispatched to my mother a message saying that I had closed an important deal which meant, I believed, $2000 a year profits. I soon concluded other business in New York, returned to Salem and in the basement of our house had various shipments made from J. H. Singer. With a trunk of samples I started on a tour, my first stop being Fitchburg and my first sale being the largest amount that I had sold up to that time - a bill something like $350.00 to a concern there. From Fitchburg I continued to Worcester, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven and made quite a triumphal tour, with which I was well satisfied. I then took the puzzle by the horns and hired my first store which was a corner store in the old Franklin Building on the space now occupied by the new Hawthorne Hotel, a small place for which I paid a rental of $12.50 per month. I had previously hired Joseph Dyer to do some of my packing and shipping, as the business was increasing, but he had returned and gone into other business and in looking about I hired from an apothecary shop on Essex Street young Harry Phillips, then about fifteen years of age - a very bright young boy, who had attracted my attention. I had devised a number of new games, The Dickens' Game, Ivanhoe, etc. previous to this, and filled the shelves in my little store with this stock and also bought tennis goods of Horsman and others, which I sold at retail. The little store which had always previously been a failure, attracted considerable attention and I remember hearing a lady go by remarking, "Well, he's stayed there longer than anybody else so far." Thanks to the Singer line my sales were large and good for that early part of my career, and my brother Charles, (as well as Harry Phillips) aided me at odd times when he could leave his oil business in packing, shipping and billing, while I sold the country round with my own and the Singer inventions. It was while in Vermont on such a trip that I received the sad news of the final illness of my mother, who had been ill for years, crippled with rheumatism.
I returned immediately to Salem and found her fatally ill. She lived some few days and then with all her sweetness passed away. The blow was a terrible one for us for it had always been a devoted family, but I started shortly on a trip into Maine, a dreadful trip, from which I returned ill and broken. I roused myself, however, to renewed efforts and having invented the board game "Chivalry" (the finest game which I have ever devised, but one too skillful and scientific for the general public) and several other games, I invited my brother Charles to join me as a partner, and the concern became "Parker Brothers" in the year 1888, and in the spring with a largely increased line I started boldly for Chicago.
In Chicago in the Spring of 1888 I made what we considered a large success and I toured to various other cities. The record of those sales by weeks is in our archives. It looks very small now, but meant much to us then, as it showed that we could go successfully throughout the country and in 1889 and the years which followed, it was purely a matter of building up by sales a good and profitable business, capable of earning a good living for my brother and myself. Through all that period of the 90s I invented or devised practically every game. In 1894 we exhibited at the World's Fair in Chicago, won a medal and our line became noteworthy. The business of A. C. McClurg & Co. became several thousand a year with us; Marshall Field & Co. the same and we progressed well. It was, however, in 1888 that it became necessary for us to obtain outside capital, as our own was not sufficient to swing the business and I interested Sidney W. Winslow, afterwards founder of the Shoe Machinery Co., and Andrew W. Rogers, to enter into our business as special partners. They continued in that relation until 1890.
It was in 1888 that we moved from the Franklin Building store to larger quarters in what was then the old laundry building on Bridge Street, occupied in one half by a horse-shoer and which is now the old building No. 4.
FOREIGN TRIPS: About 1890 Harry Phillips, still very young, began to sell games. He proved a remarkable salesman and gradually I gave town after town up to him, thus relieving myself of all but the more important points. I, however, did the majority of the selling, as well as the inventing of games, until late into the 90s.
I had sent Harry Phillips to England, I think, in 1893. He made a good trip considering what he then had to offer. My own first trip was made in 1895. I rapidly developed a good and profitable business in London and the larger English cities, remaining there usually about ten weeks and going there in 1896 with Mrs. Parker, which was the year of our marriage. I went the next year 1897 alone and in 1898 took with me Ellery Brown, as an assistant. In 1897 while in England I arranged with Roberts Brothers who owned the game Pillow Dex for the American rights of the game. This was a rubber balloon game, the balloon being struck back and forth across a line in the middle of the table. I advertised it largely in the New York newspapers and built up a successful business in what was our first fad game. Of Pillow Dex we made a great success, making really sizeable income that year, and introducing my own method of advertising and exploitation, which was to be afterwards successfully used on a number of other important games. We had in one of the previous years made a considerable sum out of the game Tiddledy Winks which had a great vogue, but Pillow Dex was the first great specialty bearing our exclusive imprint in America, to make a hit and profit of some thousands of dollars beyond our actual living needs.
[The typescript ends here.]