Milton Bradley Board Games: History Throughout the Years

Updated August 13, 2021
family playing twister game at the park

Among the large catalog of Milton Bradley board games are beloved favorites like Twister and The Game of Life. In fact, you probably have a shelf in one of your closets filled with board games manufactured by the legendary board game company. Milton Bradley almost single-handedly launched the American board game industry, and it continues to do what it's always done best--make the board games you never stop playing.

Milton Bradley Goes Into Business

Milton Bradley was born in 1836 in a small village nestled in the upper northeast of the United States. As he reached adulthood, Bradley trained in drafting and secured a job drawing product plans for the Wason Car Manufacturing Co. This sparked an interest in the lithograph business, and Bradley launched the Milton Bradley Company in 1860 with the intention of producing custom lithographs for Springfield, Massachusetts. However, the lithograph business wasn't proving to be particularly successful, and Bradley sought other uses for his specialized equipment. This led him to inventing The Checkered Game of Life and transitioning into the board game manufacturer that you know and love today.

The Checkered Game of Life and Bradley's Beginnings

Inspired by Old English tabletop games, Bradley invented what he believed to be a truly American board game. Central to the games' conceit was the Puritanical traditions and cultural concepts that built New England society, and this influence can be seen in Bradley's Checkered Game of Life, as the game's purpose was for player's to achieve 'Happy Old Age' rather than 'Ruin.'

The board game quickly grew popular in the New England area and beyond, encouraging Bradley to make the full transition from lithograph company to board game company. With the Civil War raging on just as this transition happened, Bradley cemented his company's success by providing soldiers with travel packs of checkers, chess, backgammon, and his Checkered Game of Life. By the post-war period, the Milton Bradley Company was a household name, if not for its board games, then for its contribution to early childhood development and the creation of the color wheel.

Milton Bradley During the Early 20th Century

Expanding their catalog to involve more and more games, as well as puzzles and educational supplies, the Milton Bradley Company was reportedly net earning around $3.5 million in 1920. This success wasn't dimmed by Bradley's death in 1911, but was severely challenged by the economic crisis of the late-1920s and the subsequent Depression when the company nearly hit bankruptcy. It was nigh impossible to keep the board game manufacturer solvent when its customers could no longer afford to spend money on leisure items and thus support the manufacturing process to create these useless board games.

Yet, another war would prove just as helpful for Milton Bradley as it had eighty-years prior. On top of taking commissions from the United States Armed Forces to manufacturer weapons parts such as gun stocks, the company reinstated their traveling kits for soldiers. With over $2 million in sales over the course of the war, Milton Bradley miraculously survived the great culling of the Depression to continue its mission of making creative and entertaining games.

Bradley Enters the Golden Era of Board Games

The 1950s and 1960s was a ripe period for board games, as many of the classic games that people still play today were invented during this time. In fact, many of Bradley's most iconic games were released during this period, such as Candy Land, Twister, and the company's centennial product, the Game of Life. The mid-century saw Milton Bradley expand itself to include new acquisitions and international contracts, but the winds of change were 'a-coming for the board game industry with the development of digital products and video games. Bradley hopped on the bandwagon with its electronic memory game, Simon, which was released in 1977. However, it was advantageous for the Milton Bradley Company to offer stability to the newcomer, Hasbro Inc., and Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley in 1984.

Milton Bradley in the 21st Century

Still attached to the Hasbro Inc. roster, Milton Bradley continues to manufacture board games in the 21st century. However, they've mostly switched to manufacturing their old favorites rather than churning out new products every few months. But, with games like Twister, Battleship, and The Game of Life, Bradley remains a brand that's as popular today as it was a hundred and sixty years ago.

Popular Hits From the Milton Bradley Company

With over 200 board games on its production roster, the Milton Bradley catalog seems exhaustive. Yet, many of these games are no longer in print or represent limited editions created for things like movies or television shows. Thus, there are far fewer of these board games which are currently being produced. Which of Milton Bradley's best-sellers is your favorite?

  • Battleship (1967)
  • Candy Land (1949)
  • Connect Four (1974)
  • The Game of Life (1978)
  • Jenga (1986)
  • KerPlunk (1967)
  • Mouse Trap (1963)
  • Operation (1965)
  • Scattegories (1988)
  • Trouble (1965)
  • Twister (1966)
  • Yahtzee (1956)
  • Simon (1978)
  • Concentration (1958)
  • Family Feud (1977)
  • Axis & Allies (1981)
  • Guess Who? (1982)
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos (1978)
  • Bop It! (1996)

You Can't Beat the Classics

The vast number of Milton Bradley board games still available proves the timeless quality to the company's creative vision. Over 150 years of manufacturing board games has solidified Milton Bradley as a titan of the board gaming world, and you can pay homage to its stalwart perseverance by playing one of its many classic games with your friends and family. As they always say, you can't beat the classics.

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Milton Bradley Board Games: History Throughout the Years