February 8, 2007

Milton Bradley

And the man behind the brand is...
Milton Bradley

Listen to the Podcast http://oscarmeyerpodcast.podbus.com/Milton%20Bradley.mp3

Life isn't like it used to be. The game that is. When Milton Bradley first introduced the "Checkered Game of Life" it had as its theme high ideals of morality and happy old age. The modern version of "Life", introduced on the 100th anniversary of the game, stresses personal achievement and monetary success. Milton Bradley would not be pleased.

Bradley was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts and showed an early talent for math and science. In 1854, with savings of about $250 he enrolled in Lawrence Scientific School at Cambridge. Living at home and making the arduous commute was the only way he could afford to stay in school. His parents, however, moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 1856 and Bradley had to abandon his studies.

If that wasn't bad enough he couldn't find satisfactory work in Hartford and had to travel up the river to Springfield, Massachusetts where he caught on as a draftsman for the Wason Locomotive Car Works. Bradley became fascinated with lithography but at the time the only press in the country was in Boston. Somehow that press became available in Providence and Bradley went there and bought it.

He stayed in Providence long enough to learn how to operate the press and on January 31, 1860 he brought it back to Springfield. His first commission was a book of designs for a local monument maker.

Returning Springfield men from the 1860 Republican national convention suggested that Bradley produce and sell photographs of the parties' impressive new candidate - a fellow by the name of Lincoln. He readily agreed and hastily produced hundreds of thousands of copies of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln won the election but Bradley would not cash in on the speculation. His photos had portrayed a clean-shaven Lincoln. When Lincoln grew a beard before going to Washington Bradley's portraits were nearly unrecognizable. He destroyed his large inventory of lithographs.

The Civil War delivered a further blow to Bradley's young company. Business ground to a halt and the press stood idle as bankruptcy loomed. But an inventor appeared with a new game he called "The Checkered Game of Life." Bradley bought the game and printed 45,000 copies of "Life" in the first year. By 1868 Milton Bradley was the leading manufacturer of games in America.

In 1869 Bradley attended a lecture by Elizabeth Peabody, founder of the Kindergarten movement in the country. He became an enthusiastic proponent, printing teaching aids at a loss for many years before making a profit. But Bradley, who founded his company with the goal of providing America's children a gift of happiness and pleasant instruction, was more interested in education than money.

The good works started by Bradley formed the basis of Milton Bradley's lucrative educational game business in future years, just like the shifting priorities of the game of "Life" indicate.

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