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During World War II, the British secret service hatched a master plan to smuggle escape gear to captured Allied soldiers inside Germany. Their secret weapon? Monopoly boxes. The original notion was simple enough: Find a way to sneak useful items into prison camps in an unassuming form. But the idea to use Monopoly came from a series of happy coincidences, all of which started with maps.
Smooth As SilkMaps are harder to smuggle than you might think. They fall apart when wet, and they make a lot of noise when unfolded. Allied officials feared paper maps might draw the attention of German troops, so they turned to an unlikely source for help—silk. Not only would silk maps hold up in all kinds of weather, but they’d also come with the life-saving benefit of being whisper quiet.
To produce these silent maps, the Brits turned to John Waddington Ltd., a company that had recently perfected the process of printing on silk and was already manufacturing silk escape maps for British airmen to carry. What else was Waddington known for? You guessed it—being the licensed manufacturer of Monopoly outside the United States.
Suddenly, the popular board game seemed like the perfect way to get supplies inside German-run POW camps. At the time, the Nazis were hard-pressed to get provisions to their own troops, much less to the Allied soldiers they’d captured. Wishing to hide this less-than-stellar upholding of the Geneva Convention, they happily welcomed Red Cross aid packages for POWs. So throwing Monopoly games into the care kits along with food and clothing was met with little scrutiny. Monopoly was already a well-known game throughout Europe, and the German guards saw it as the perfect way for their detainees to remain occupied for hours.