The History of Scrabble

Of all the board games out there, Scrabble has long been one of the most popular classics. It is a fairly simple word game involving letter tiles with a score assigned to each letter. Players draw seven tiles at the beginning and take turns creating words on the game board, where certain squares offer bonus points. New words that are made must be attached to at least one of the existing words on the board. It is somewhat akin to a crossword puzzle. The ultimate aim is to get the highest number of points. Scrabble is a test of the players’ vocabulary, as well as how versatile and flexible they are in their thinking. Over the years, the game has evolved a good deal since its conception several decades ago. Here we take a look back in time at the original inventor of Scrabble and the game’s subsequent developers.

Although the original brain behind Scrabble is generally unknown by many Scrabble players today, we owe all of the history of Scrabble to Alfred Mosher Butts, an American architect. In 1938 he had earlier created a similar game named Lexiko. Through a tedious process of manual tabulation, Butts figured out the frequency of letters in the English language. With this information, he worked out the amounts of tiles per letters, as well as each of their point values. When he made a new version of the game, he called it Criss-Crosswords. It included a square game board with 15 squares across and down. Although it was an excellent concept, Butts only managed to manufacture a few copies and failed in persuading game manufacturers to purchase Criss-Crosswords. Out of the few people who did buy Criss-Crosswords was James Brunot. During 1948, he officially purchased the rights for manufacturing the board game. As compensation, Butts would receive a royalty for each sale. During this process, Brunot introduced a few minor changes to the rules and board layout. More significantly, he changed the name to a catchier moniker that has remained the same for over half a century, Scrabble. Brunot made and sold several sets in 1949 but did not recover the investment that he had put into it. Luck favored him a few years later in 1952 when the Macy’s president, Jack Strauss, stumbled upon Scrabble while vacationing. When Strauss returned home, he ordered a large number of sets for Macy’s. Since the demand was now too great for Brunot, he transferred the rights to another company, Selchow and Righter. Even though they had earlier turned down the game when Butts had approached them, they now saw its potential. Within two years, they had managed to ramp up sales of close to four million Scrabble sets! Later, fearing that imitators would attempt to capitalize on their success, Selchow and Righter also purchased the trademark. In the mid-80s when they sold Scrabble to Coleco, the latter company went bankrupt. Hasbro, a renowned games manufacturer purchased all of their assets, with Scrabble included in the mix.

By now, Scrabble has gone through a number of changes and variations. It has been adapted to different languages, with the number of tiles and points adjusted to lingual differences. The game itself now comes in a few different versions: travel (with magnetic tiles and a smaller board), deluxe, and large print. Scrabble has also been launched out of the game box and into several different formats. A 1984 television program turned Scrabble into a live game show, with an updated version launched in 2011. Of course, the rise of the Internet and computer technology has resulted in several digital versions of Scrabble as well. Atari and Ubisoft are the companies that distribute the official Scrabble computer game. Fans can also find versions for Nintendo, Playstation, Kindle, and even mobile phones. When Facebook came out with online games within their platform, one version named Scrabulous was introduced. Hasbro took issue with it due to copyright infringement. Subsequently, the developers changed the name to Lexulous. The game is still very similar to Scrabble and continues to be one of the most popular Facebook games.

Despite the other trendy, amusing board games that have come and gone in the past century, Scrabble remains one of the strongest and most widely played. It is distributed within 121 countries, with 29 language versions to choose from. Americans own approximately one-third of the 150 million game sets that have been sold. Today, people not only play at home, but also compete in Scrabble tournaments, championships and clubs.