AUGUSTA — Johan Graham loves board games.

She brought two old games to an illustrated lecture on the life of Milton Bradley held Wednesday at the Maine State Museum. One was a 1972 jigsaw puzzle of U.S. presidents manufactured by Milton Bradley Co.

David Richards, interim director of the University of Maine Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan, talked about Bradley, who was born in the town of Vienna in 1836.

The 77-year-old Graham, who lives in Farmingdale, said she always enjoyed playing board games with the family.

“We always played games with the family,” Graham said. “We don’t do it as much anymore. No one has the time.”

A number of people in the audience had brought their old games to be displayed during the lecture.

Richards said he first became interested in Milton Bradley, credited with launching the gaming industry in the U.S., during a research project for conservation groups.

The groups had just secured an easement for 6,000 acres of undeveloped land in the Belgrade Lakes area and wanted to know the historical background of the area.

“I did a historical survey, and the thing I found was that Milton Bradley was born in Maine, and that piqued my interest,” Richards said.

He said Bradley proved to be an interesting subject, not only to him, but also to audience members at his speaking engagements who remember their own favorite Milton Bradley games.

The first game Milton Bradley invented, which made him famous, was the Checkered Game of Life, released in 1860. It still exists today, although in a different form.

He said Bradley’s family left Maine when he was 11 years old and moved to Lowell, Mass. In his early 20s, Bradley moved to Springfield, Mass., and started the game company.

During the Civil War, Bradley came up with another popular game idea.

“He realized solders had a lot of down time, so he made up kits of games to help keep them busy,” he said. “They were widely successful.”

He said Bradley not only manufactured games, but also was on a mission to convince the public it was OK to play games, so it would be more sociably acceptable.

“People were fearful of kids having too much free time,” he said. “What Milton Bradley did was to show that his games promoted home where mother instilled virtue to their children. The idea of having games available at home stopped children from going out in the public sphere of vice.”

He said Bradley was interested in a number of issues, including promoting social sports such as croquet, the kindergarten movement in the U.S., and selling education material and supplies.

“One of the things he did with his company was insist on a third product line, education material and education supplies,” he said. “His business partners weren’t too keen on it. They lost money, but he said it was for the social good.”

The Milton Bradley Co., now owned by Hasbro, continued to dominate the production of games through the 1900s, with more recent, familiar games such as The Game of Life, Operation, Candyland, and Battleship.

His games are ingrained in today’s pop culture. Richards said “Battleship” is an upcoming science fiction naval war film based on one of Milton Bradley’s children’s game. There’s also a video game based on the film.

Bradley may have approved of that, but probably wouldn’t have be too happy with the 1960 revised version of the Checkerboard Game of Life, Richards said.

“The new version is about acquiring wealth,” he said. “His game was about acquiring virtue.”

Richards also had a display of board games from the museum’s collections.

Bradley died in 1911 in Springfield, Mass., at age 74.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]


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