It might not be a new story to many of you, but it is still a cool example of tool use, prison ingenuity, and WWII intrigue that seems fitting for a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was reminded of it tonight because the story was shared on “What History Forgot” on AHC. During World War II, the Waddington Co. was both the UK licensee for the game Monopoly, and the inventor of a process to print on silk.
In 1941, the British Secret Service approached Waddington with its master plan, and before long, production of a “special edition” Monopoly set was underway. For the top-secret mission, the factory set aside a small, secure room — unknown to the rest of its employees — where skilled craftsmen sat and painstakingly carved small niches and openings into the games’ cardboard boxes.
Along with the standard thimble, car, and Scotty dog, the POW version included additional “playing” pieces, such as a metal file, a magnetic compass, and of course, a regional silk escape map, complete with marked safe-houses along the way — all neatly concealed in the game’s box.
Even better, some of the Monopoly money was real. Actual German, Italian, and French currency was placed underneath the play money for escapees to use for bribes.
Also, because of its collaboration with the International Red Cross, Waddington could track which sets would be delivered to which camps, meaning escape maps specific to the area could be hidden in each game set. Allied soldiers and pilots headed to the front lines were told to look for the special edition game if they were captured. The identifying mark to check for? A red dot in the corner of the Free Parking space.
This is a cool case from history, but the lesson can be applied today. It doesn’t take much more than simple tools to do something as dramatic as escape from an actual prison. The idea that hand tools could ever be controlled in an ostensibly free society is complete and total folly.