POW editions of Monopoly from WWII included escape kits

A Wall Street Journal blogger describes how the UK manufacturer of Monopoly produced special "loaded" editions of the game for distribution to Allied POWs during WWII, complete with files, escape maps, and real money.

n 1941, the British Secret Service asked the game's British licensee John Waddington Ltd. to add secret extras to some sets, which had become standard elements of the aid packages that the Red Cross delivered to allied prisoners of war. Along with the usual dog, top hat and and thimble, the sets had a metal file, compass, and silk maps of safe houses (silk, because it folds into small spaces and unfolds silently). Even better, real French, German and Italian currency was hidden underneath the game's fake money. Departing allied soldiers and pilots were told that if they were captured they should look out for the special editions, identified by a red dot in the Free Parking space. Any sets remaining in the U.K. were destroyed after the war. Of the 35,000 prisoners of war who escaped German prison camps by the end of the war, "more than a few of those certainly owe their breakout to the classic board game," says Mr. McMahon.
Link (Thanks, Marilyn!)

(Image credit: Monopoly, a Creative Commons Attribution-only image from Creepus's Flickr stream)


  1. Both Foot (MI 9: Escape and evasion, 1939-1945) and Shoemaker (The Escape Factory: The Story of Mis-X) say that the Red Cross was never used for “loaded” supplies. They created their own false charities because they didn’t want the official packages tainted in any way.

  2. Another flaw in this story… 35,000 escaped prisoners? There were only about 120,000 American POWs in WWII in all theaters of the war. The Great Escape, which sent Germany into an uproar, was over 79 prisoners who got out… there were never 35,000 escaped prisoners of war.

    Which makes one wonder, where did this bogus story come from, and what makes it “newsworthy” today? Something smells here…

  3. At #2:

    Who said all of the escapees were American? Monopoly was an international sensation, with versions being printed in multiple languages/countries.

  4. I read this story years ago — I think it was in an issue of Popular Mechanics from the early ’60s.

    From what I remember, Marky was right — the British Secret Service set up a phony charity to distribute items like this, rather than using the Red Cross.

    And I also agree with Bark — the only way you could get 35,000 escaped prisoners is if you counted everyone who walked away from a camp in the last few days of the war if/when the guards deserted to save their own skins.

  5. Whew! Thanks, MARKY for #1. I was prepared to go ape on anyone who would compromise the important lifeline provided by the IRC. I am glad to see that the British were a bit more circumspect. Now if we could just get the Bush administration to stop trying to hoodwink them….

  6. A few years back while doing a consulting gig for U.S. Playing Cards I got to visit their in-house museum. The had a display about secret escape maps that they’d imbedded literally inside Bicycle playing cards.

    They also mentioned that technically, that information was still classified – and it was the mid 90’s when I learned about it.

    Of course, a quick search on eBay will find you a replica deck . . .

  7. bjacques nailed the obvious headline for this post ‘C. “Monopoly’s Get Out Of Concentration Camp Free Card”.

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