Scrabble is one of the most popular games of all time with over 100 million game sets sold. It can be found on the shelf in almost every home in America. But, the first sixteen years of its existence the inventor could barely give it away.
Born during the depression, the game was invented by Albert Butts in 1931 in his home in Poughkeepsie, New York. He loved games and thought that by inventing one he could help his family through the lean times.
He studied the New York Times crossword puzzle and calculated the frequency that each letter of the alphabet was used.
Albert Butt's game was not the immediate success that he had hoped for. In 1933, he was turned down for a patent and received rejection notices from Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.
The first version of the game named Lexicon he handmade out of scrap materials. He drew a grid on linen and ran it through a blueprint machine. He pasted it down of a sheet of plywood. The tiles were cut out of balsa word, then hand lettered and lacquered.
The racks were made from pieces of wall molding. The price of the game was set at $1.50.
By 1938, he had sold or given away to friends about 200 game sets. The game went through name changes, it became Alpha, then Criss-Cross. He tried again for a patent and was turned down. Still, no game company would take a chance on it.
In 1947, he teamed up with game fanatic, James Brunot. Brunot was a retired social worker who had the time and the belief that he could produce and market the game now called IT. He agreed to pay Albert Butts a percentage.
Brunot copyrighted the game, then changed the name of the game to SCRABBLE, which means- to grope frantically.
Brunot converted his living room at his home in Newton, Connecticut into a factory. He and his wife started producing the
game. They recruited friends to help and were soon able to produce 18 games sets a day.
He raised the price to $3 and advertised in college alumni magazines.
In their first full year of production, 1949, they sold 2,240 sets, but ended up losing $450.
Sales grew slowly and by 1952, Brunot was ready to quit. He went on vacation to think it over. When he returned home, to his surprise, word of mouth had generated a stack of orders.
His first big break came when the chairman of Macys played the game while on vacation and liked it. He put the game in all of Macy's stores.
A $10 version of the game was introduced with white plastic tiles instead of the Maple wood used in the $3 version.
One problem with the maple tiles was that players would memorize the grain of the maple tiles so they could find the tile they needed to make a word.
Production became more than Brunot could handle, so in 1953 he licensed the game's North American rights to Selchow and Righter. J. W. Spear, a British company, bought the international rights.
Life magazine published a six-page article about Scrabble and the game became that year's hottest Christmas gift.
Butts and Brunot never really became wealthy from Scrabble, but made nice livings. They sold the trademark to Selchow and Righter in 1972. In 1987, Milton Bradley bought Selchow and Righter, so, 53 years after turning down the game they owned it.
Scrabble is the second most popular game next to Monopoly and is played in 27 languages. Over 2,000,000 sets are still sold each year. Hasbro bought Milton Bradley and now owns the U.S. and Canada rights. Mattel owns the international rights.
The game now comes in many versions including a digital and travel version.
Albert Butts died in 1993. Almost everything fails at first. He was proof that many times the difference between a failure and success is simply persistence.