Claim: Maps and other escape aids were smuggled to Allied POWs in Monopoly sets during World War II.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, May 2009]
Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of 'safe houses' where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.
Paper maps had some real drawbacks — they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush.
Someone in MI-5 (similar to America's OSS) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever.
At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.
By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, 'games and pastimes' was a category of item qualified for insertion into 'CARE packages', dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.
Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were regional system). When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.
As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add:
1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass
2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together
3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!
British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a 'rigged' Monopoly
Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.
The story wasn't declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington's, as well as the firm itself, were finally honored in a public ceremony.
It's always nice when you can play that 'Get Out of Jail' Free' card!
Origins: The gist of this account about maps (and other items useful for escape efforts) being smuggled to Allied POWs during World
The general outline of the scheme to smuggle escape aids to POWs through specially manufactured Monopoly kits is recounted (among other places) in The Game Makers, a 2004 history of the Parker Brothers game company:
Thousands of fliers who went on missions over German-occupied Europe had the maps sewn into their uniforms if they were shot down and captured.
Victor Watson, chairman of the firm, said Waddingtons had a secret department that put the maps, files and money in shallow recesses on the board under the paper face. Then
Powell Davies, who was a 19-year-old flier when he was captured, said the prison escape committees would destroy the sets after removing the escape aids to keep the guards from figuring out what was going on.
In his article about Monopoly, Ben Macintyre states that the special sets of Monopoly were sent to prison camps via the Red Cross. Waddingtons produced many escape aids which were sent to the Nazi prison camps, but these were always sent via private, often fictitious, organisations like the Licensed Victuallers Prisoner Relief Fund. No escape aids were enclosed in the Red Cross parcels, so that the Germans would have no justification for stopping these much needed parcels from reaching the prisoners.
It is untrue that safe houses were shown on the maps, as there was a virtual certainty that some of the maps would fall into German
|Escape and Evasion Maps of World War II|
Last updated: 25 July 2015
Macintyre, Ben.   "The Allure of the Tiny Red Plastic Hotel." The [London] Times. 21 December 2007. Orbanes, Philip E. The Game Makers: The Story of Parker Brothers. Boston: Harvard Business School, 2004. ISBN 1-59139-269-1 (p 113). Associated Press.   "Ex-POWs Toast Monopoly." The [Florence, AL] Times Daily. 28 January 1985 (p. A10). [Kingsport, TN] Daily News.   "Fixed Monopoly Sets Helped WWII Prisoners to Escape." 17 January 1985 (p. A3). The [London] Times.   "War Games." 27 December 2007.