The history of tabletop or board games dates back into antiquity. Board games have been played, travelled and evolved in most cultures and societies throughout history: Senet was a board game played in Ancient Egypt from around 3,500 BC, Backgammon was popular in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago, as was the Royal Game of Ur. Chess is believed to originate in India in the Gupta Empire (c. 280–550 AD), the several Mesoamerican cultures played a strategy and luck game known as Patolli from 200 BC on.
The oldest records of board gaming in Europe date back to Homer's Iliad (written in the 8th century BC), but Norse cultures and ancient Ireland mention games as well.
In her book ‘The Games We Played’, Margaret Hofer, associate curator of decorative arts at the New-York-Historical-Society, described the period of the 1880s–1920s as ‘The Golden Age’ of board gaming in America. Mass production of games made them cheaper and more easily available, and the industry boosted. Pioneering mass publishers were the Milton Bradley Company (est. 1860) and the Parker Brothers (founded in 1883, they published immensely popular games like Monopoly (1935), Cluedo (1949) and Risk (1959)).
In the early 20th century, board game design began to emphasize amusement over education, which made simpler race games such as Ludo (originally called Mensch, ärgere dich nicht, 1914 in German) grow increasingly popular, as did word/letter games like Anagrams (MB, 1920s) and Scrabble (1938).
Around 1900, many inventions revolutionized the world. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone, one of the most world-changing inventions ever made. Thomas Edison improved the electric light bulb to a long-lasting, inexpensive device (1878), invented the phonograph (1877). Karl Benz developed the first modern motorised car, which was first built in 1885. The Lumière brothers created the first motion picture projector or cinematograph, which they patented in 1895. Guglielmo Marconi built a wireless telegraphy system based on Hertzian waves and patended the radio in 1896. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's ideas for an airship were developed in 1893, whereas the Wright brothers invented and flew the first airplane in 1903.
"En L'An 2000"
No wonder that at the turn of the 19th century, the possibilities for the future seemed endless. This influenced many artists - just think about the immensely popular science fiction novels by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. In that time, collecting trade cards was popular among consumers. In the period 1899-1901, either a cigarette or toy company in France hired several graphic artists to create a series of illustrations called "En L'An 2000", on which they depicted what they thought everyday life would look like in the year 2000. Unfortunately, the company got out of business before the cards were distributed, leaving us with only one complete set of about 50 cards, that is now in the hands of Isaac Asimov. Luckily, he published a book about them. I found some trade cards by a chocolate company called Louit that seemed to have distributed cards with the futuristic pictures in a later year.
A striking amount of the pictures feature flying vehicles, and thinking about how much happens in the sky, the people back then had a good view on the future. Even though postmen themselves don't fly, tons of mail is being distributed via air. Videoconferencing was foreseen, as well as aerial battles and breeding machines. We still can't walk on water, though water skiing comes close. I collected all the cards on a Pinterest board: Victorian Future Visions
Hildebrand's trade cards
In the same period, the German cacao company Hildebrand published a set of twelve trade cards depicting life in 2000. Hildebrands cards shows moving sidewalks, live broadcasting of theater performances in the living room, personal flying machines, a good weather machine (if only...!) and roofs over cities - as can be seen below.
The Route 66 is one of the original highways in the United States of America. It was established in 1626 and started in Chicago, Illinois, heading west through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California. The route spreads over 3,940 kilometers, crossing a great variety of landscapes.
The Route 66 was the major road for migrants from Oklahoma who travelled west after a period of heavy dust storms in the 1930s, that had caused severe drought and damaged the agriculture in the U.S. Many farmers, but also other workers, that suffered from the change in ecology had been told that there was still work enough in California and travelled there with good hopes. However, due to the economic crisis now known as the Great Depression, the situation in California was not much better than in the country the migrants had left behind. This migration is beautifully described in John Steinbecks novel "The Grapes of Wrath". The only ones that enjoyed the migration movement were the communities based along the Route 66. Restaurants, car workshops, gas stations and grocery stores thankfully profited from the many travellers that passed them.
It were those people who fought for the preservation of the Highway when its use declined because of the establishment of interstates in the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, in the late 1980s, associations were founded and Missouri declared the highway to be a State Historic Route in 1990. In 2008, the route was added to the World Monuments Watch to preserve the existing gas stations, motels, cafes etc. alongside the route. Today, the Route 66 has grown to be a popular cult route for motor riders.
The story of the Route 66 served as a topic in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and in the Disney Pixar movie Cars (2006).
Mata Hari - the name alone sounds like oriental mystery, seduction and espionage. The girl behind the name was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Frisian town of Leeuwarden, and has turned into a legend.
She was born in 1876 as the first child of a hatter and oil-invester. She grew up in wealth, and being the first daughter she was shamelessly spoiled by her father. She would go around in fancy dresses, and be an outsider because of her flamboyant appearance. However, her father's company went bankrupt when Margaretha was 13, and soon after her parents separated. In 1891, Margaretha's mother died, and the family fell apart. Her father went to Amsterdam to live with his second wife and the children were sent to live with other family members.
She started studying to be a kindergarten teacher in Leiden, and it was there that she learned she was sexually attractive to men: the school's headmaster helplessly fell for her. When a scandal broke out, Margaretha was dismissed from the school and went to live with her uncle in The Hague. At the age of 18, she saw an advertisement in the newspaper that was placed by friends of Rudolf MacLeod, a captain stationed in the Dutch East Indies who was - according to his friends - in desperate need of a wife. Margaretha answered the ad and enclosed a photograph, expecting that her beauty would convince him to choose her. He was twenty years her senior, but she understood that the captain would secure her the financial status she had known as a child, but had missed after her father's bankruptcy. The two got married soon after. She now was a member of the upper class, but because she had to live in the tropics, she hardly had any benefit of that. They got two children, Jeanne and Norman. The latter got poisoned at the age of 2,5, supposedly by medicines against syphilis. Because of Rudolf's rude character and Margaretha's troubles to get used to the Indies, the marriage did not work out. In 1902 they moved back to The Hague and got separated soon after; Rudolf took Jeanne with him. Margaretha was left alone without family, money or a proper education.
In one of my former blogs, I wrote about the Dutch creating ‘polders’ by draining lakes. This even went so far that the twelfth province of The Netherlands, Flevoland, was entirely created by reclaiming land from the former Zuiderzee.
The mastermind behind the Zuiderzee works was Cornelis Lely (1854-1929). During his terms as Minister of Transport and Water Management, he developed plans to enclose the Zuiderzee – a huge bay of the North Sea covering about 5,000 km2 - and create large polders in the area. He strongly advocated his own ideas, but it needed severe floods along the Zuiderzee shores in 1916 before his plans were finally approved.
The implementation of Lely’s project started in 1927 with the closure of the Zuiderzee by building a 32 km long dike between the provinces of North Holland and Friesland, resulting in a giant lake: the IJsselmeer. The construction of the Afsluitdijk was finished in 1932 (see image above).
On the left in the image above, you can see two schemes for the Wieringer Polder and the Hoornsche Polder, probably drawn in the early 1920s. The sketch of the Hoornsche Polder was the first plan for what would become the neverending Markerwaard project. The Wieringer Polder was completely drained in 1929, enlarging the province of Noord-Holland.
The next image shows an updated plan. The Wieringer Polder is called NW Polder in that, the Hoornsche Polder is enlarged and now called ZW (South West) Polder, and plans for a NO and SO (North resp. South East) Polder have appeared. The area of the Noordoostpolder was first reclaimed; the drainage was finished in 1940. Works on the ZW polder started the year after by building a 2 km long dike north of the small island of Marken, but the works had to be interrupted under the German occupation in World War II.