Friday, April 13th, 2012, would have been Alfred Mosher Butts’ 113th birthday. Despite the number 13’s unlucky reputation, it was quite an auspicious day for North Carolina 8th graders, Andy
Hoang and Erik Salgado. After all, it was Alfred who created the classic board game, Scrabble®, and these two young men are National Scrabble® Champions– for the second time!
Since 2003, the National School Scrabble program has been celebrating Alfred’s birthday each year by hosting a tournament with a $10,000 prize. This year’s National School Scrabble Championship was held in Orlando, Florida.
In a repeat performance, Hoang and Salgado dominated the contest, which consisted of 150 students (ages 9 – 14) from across the country. In 2009, they came out on top, winning the competition as 10 year olds. They are the first team since the tournament was founded to win more than once.
“These competitors represent the cream of the crop from our National School SCRABBLE® Program,” says National SCRABBLE® Association Executive Director, John D. Williams Jr. Praised by parents and educators alike, the School SCRABBLE® Program is an innovative teaching tool that has helped over a million kids in over 20,000 schools nationwide with spelling, vocabulary, math, dictionary use and more. “Kids are learning, and they don’t even know it!” Williams adds.
The Great Depression left Alfred Mosher Butts, an architect, unemployed in the early 1930’s. He decided that his next career step should be designing a board game, and began studying popular games of the time to understand what made them successful.
Alfred settled on an idea based on crossword puzzles, and combined it with the element of chance through the addition of randomly drawn letter tiles.
He originally named the game “Lexiko” and later changed it to “Criss Cross Words” and then changed it again to just “It.”
Alfred wasn’t too interested in manufacturing and distributing the game himself. Instead, he wanted to sell his idea. He began pitching it to game companies including Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, but was rejected time and time again. He didn’t give up, and eventually, he sold the rights to a game-loving entrepreneur and friend of his, named James Brunot. Brunot changed the name of the game to “Scrabble®,” which came from a Dutch word “Schrabben,” which means “to grope frantically.”
Brunot trademarked the game in 1948. He and his wife set up a small factory in an abandoned school house and in 1949 they sold 2,400 games. Orders from Macy’s department store helped the game steadily gain popularity in the coming years, and by 1952, the self-manufacturing Brunots could no longer keep up with demand. They licensed the rights for Scrabble® to Selchow & Righter (a game company who had originally turned it down, when Alfred had pitched it to them).
Since then, over 150 million sets have been sold. Now, between one and two million sets are sold each year in 121 countries. Interestingly, today, global trademark rights are split between the world’s two largest toymakers. Hasbro Inc. owns the rights in the U.S. and Canada, while Mattel has the international rights.
There are over 2400 registered School Scrabble Clubs in the U.S. Click here to register your school's club with the program. The School Scrabble Association has kits available for educators who would like to use the game in their classrooms. To learn more and watch a fun, 4-minute video about the National School SCRABBLE® Championship, go to www.schoolscrabble.com.
Michelle Spelman is Editor and Inventor Relations Liaison for Chicago Toy & Game Group. She is a game inventor, and co-founder of Flying Pig Games LLC, creators of award-winning Jukem Football card game. She is also founder of Cincinnati Game & Toy Industry Professionals group, and is the Cincinnati Children’s Toy Examiner. An independent marketing consultant providing contract services, executive coaching and strategic direction, she’s in her sweet spot when she is working with companies focused on women and family-oriented products and services.