After paying my respects to Thorton Burgess, I began my ascent up the narrow road that led to the top of the wooded hollow. In the wooded sections, I could see birds dancing among the branches and squirrels played on the shaded floor. Had I not been in the middle of Springfield, Massachusetts, I would have guessed I was miles away from a major city. Instead, I was driving slowly among the stones of Springfield Cemetery in search of the famous and noteworthy people buried within the sacred lands. Note: More about the history of the Springfield Cemetery can be found here: Thorton Burgess
Arriving at the top of the hollow, I followed my directions and turned right, followed by an immediate left and another right. Stopping in the shade to escape the heat of the early afternoon, I got out and scanned the area. The directions were almost spot on and I saw the grave I sought just a couple yards away.
Walking over to the stone which was flanked by two shrubs I could see the name “Bradley” engraved at the base of the stone. Stepping closer so I could see the names hidden in the shadow of the stone’s cap, I noted the name most people around the world recognize: Milton Bradley. Within the family plot rests the man who made board games an important part of everyday life.
Milton was born in Vienna, Maine on November 8, 1836, the only child of Lewis and Fannie Bradley. In 1847, the family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts where Bradley spent his adolescent years. In 1854, after graduating high school, Bradley found work as a draftsman and patent agent before he enrolled at the Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He left his studies when he moved with his family to Hartford. By 1856, Bradley had moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he found work as a draftsman.
In 1859, Bradley would set out to learn a new trade. He went to Providence, Rhode Island and there learned the art of lithography and opened the first color lithography shop in Springfield the following year.
With the knowledge he possessed, Bradley started to move forward with the creation of a board game he called The Checkered Game of Life. Taking inspiration from an imported board given to him by a friend, Bradley believed he could create and sell board games to the American public. In the winter of 1860, The Checkered Game of Life was released.
It was an instant success. The first run of his game sold out during a two-day visit to New York City. By the end of the following year, Bradley had sold more than 45,000 copies.
The Checkered Game of Life would eventually become The Game of Life, which is still a part of today’s culture. The modern version has been changed slightly to the present version – dangers, such as “Prison,” “Ruin,” and “Suicide” have been removed from the game board. Also, rather than being the first to get to the end, original versions found its winner when one player gained one hundred points.
In 1860, he formed the Milton Bradley Company, which grew dramatically with the success of The Checkered Game of Life. His company would go on to release a number of extremely popular board games, including: The Game of Life (which looks nothing like his original game), Candy Land, Battleship, and one of my favorites – Scrabble. In 1984, the Milton Bradley Company, after one hundred and twenty-four years of being family owned and operated, would be bought out by Hasbro, which still produces games under the Milton Bradley name.
Also in 1860, Bradley married Vilona Eaton. Their marriage produced no children and lasted until her death seven years later. Two years later, Bradley married Ellen Thayer, and they had two daughters, Florence and Lillian.
By the 1880s, the Milton Bradley Company introduced the first standardized watercolor sets, along with child-focused educational games. Beginning in 1895, Bradley would be among the first to market crayons with standardized colors.
Milton Bradley died on May 30, 1911, at age 74. He was laid to rest in the family plot, along with his parents and first wife. When Ellen, his second wife, died in 1918, she joined him there.
Although he revolutionized the gaming industry, it would be almost one hundred years after his death before he was recognized for his contributions. In 2004, he was posthumously inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame and two years later was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
I finished paying my respects to the man whose games helped define my childhood along with the early years of countless others around the world. As I left the area in silence I began to fully realize the vast majority of the games I played as a child came from the company he created. The adventures, the journeys, and the challenges of those board games were only possible thanks to the company Milton Bradley founded.