Today is Scrabble Day. It celebrates the birth in 1899 of Alfred Mosher Butts, inventor of the game the world knows as Scrabble.
Butts lost his job in the early 1930s; there wasn’t much call for an architect during the Great Depression. He worked to develop a board game that would emulate games of chance with its random choice of letters while testing the skill of its players with its elements of anagrams and crossword puzzles.
He called the game Lexiko and attempted to find a buyer, but was rejected by every company he visited. He later changed the name to Criss Cross Words and tried again but still had no luck. It seemed the game would remain a pastime for Butts, his wife—who he admitted was a better player than he—and their friends.
In 1948, he sold the rights to friend James Brunot in exchange for a small royalty on each set sold. Brunot made a couple of minor changes, tweaking the design and simplifying the rules. He renamed it Scrabble, trademarked it and set up a factory in an old schoolhouse.
He lost money until 1952 when, according to legend, a Macy’s executive played the game while on vacation and decided to sell it in the department store. Soon the orders grew too large for Brunot to fill and he sold the game to Selchow & Righter, a company that had passed on it years earlier.
Butts continued to receive royalties of about three cents per set for many years, telling a reporter, “One-third went to taxes. I gave one-third away, and the other third enabled me to have an enjoyable life.” He died on April 4, 1993, at the age of 93.
Happy Scrabble Day!