This article was first published on Scrabbleverse on July 3, 2021.

Scrabble was invented in 1938, during the Great Depression by an unemployed New York architect named Alfred Mosher Butts, who figured Americans could use a bit of distraction during the bleak economic times.

Butts chose the frequency and distribution of the tiles by counting letters on the pages of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and The Saturday Evening Post, and devised the game’s 15 x 15 board.

At first, Butts simply called his creation “it” before switching to “Lexiko”, then “Criss-Cross Words”. 

Established game manufacturers unanimously slammed the door on Butts’ invention.

James Brunot from Newtown, Connecticut – and one of the few owners of the original game – bought the manufacturing rights in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. 

Brunot’s contributions included the iconic color scheme (pastel pink, baby-blue, indigo, and bright red), the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles, and the name “Scrabble” (a real word which means ‘to scratch frantically’). The SCRABBLE Brand Crossword Game was trademarked in 1948

The first Scrabble factory was an abandoned schoolhouse in rural Connecticut, where Brunot, along with friends and family, produced 12 sets per hour.

According to legend, Scrabble’s big break came in 1952 when Jack Straus, president of Macy’s, played the game on vacation. He loved it.

Returning from vacation, he was surprised to find that his store did not carry the game. He placed a large order and within a year, “everyone had to have one”.

Scrabble had achieved its ‘breakthrough moment’.

Unable to meet demand himself, James Brunot licensed Scrabble’s marketing and distribution rights to Long Island-based Selchow and Righter, one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game. 

Selchow and Righter stepped up production to meet the overwhelming demand for Scrabble. In 1954 nearly four million sets were sold.

The competitive game got its start, and early strategies got refined, when the game moved out of the living room in the 1960s. Scrabble was played obsessively, alongside chess, backgammon, and bridge in smoke-filled games parlors in New York City, like the legendary Flea House on 42nd Street. 

Scrabble hustles evolved quickly. 

Unscrupulous players could feel around the tile bag for the blanks because they had no grooves, a tactic known as “brailling”.

In 1972, Selchow & Righter purchased the trademark from Brunot ($1.5M) and Butts ($265K), thereby giving the company the exclusive rights to all SCRABBLE Brand products and entertainment services in the United States and Canada. 

Previously, Selchow & Righter just had the marketing and distribution rights

In 1978, Selchow & Righter created the National SCRABBLE Association. From that point until 2009, the organization oversaw official Scrabble tournaments and clubs, organized National Scrabble Championships, managed school Scrabble, and published the Scrabble Players Newsletter.

The competitive version of the game we play today began to take shape. Official tournament rules were implemented, the first Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) was published, and the players’ rating system was introduced. 

Scrabble was turned into a daytime game show on NBC. Scrabble ran from July 1984 to March 1990, with a second run from January to June 1993. 1,335 episodes were produced, as well as a board game version called TV Scrabble. 

The show was hosted by the legendary Chuck Woolery, the original host of Wheel of Fortune and Love Connection. 

Over the years, Scrabble had several special weeks, including Soap Week (featuring soap opera stars), Teen Week, College Week, two Tournaments of Champions, Tournament of Teen Champions, and a $100,000 All American Tournament. The show’s promotional tagline was “Every man dies; not every man truly Scrabbles”.

In 1986 Selchow & Righter was sold to COLECO Industries, which had become famous as the manufacturers of the Cabbage Patch Dolls and Colecovision, a video game console. 

Just three years later, COLECO declared bankruptcy, and its primary assets – most notably SCRABBLE and PARCHEESI – were purchased by Hasbro, owner of the Milton Bradley Company, America’s leading game manufacturer.

In 1994, Mattel (maker of Barbie and Hot Wheels) outbids Hasbro during a time of huge consolidation of the toy industry, paying $90 million for the international rights to SCRABBLE

Joe Edley becomes the first player to win three National SCRABBLE Championships.

Records by Year:

1980 (Santa Monica): 14-3, +545, finishing 1st of 32

1992 (Atlanta): 22-5, +1839, finishing 1st of 176

2000 (Providence): 22-9, +1454, finishing 1st of 98

The 2004 National SCRABBLE Championship in New Orleans drew the largest attendance at 837 players. 

The event was won by Trey Wright (along with a $25,000 USD prize) and was broadcast on ESPN and ESPN 2.   

Here’s a link to Trey’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The National Toy Hall of Fame is an American hall of fame that recognizes the contributions of toys and games that have sustained their popularity for many years. Criteria for induction include icon status, longevity, discovery, and innovation.

Scrabble was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004, along with G.I. Joe and the Rocking Horse.

In December of 2008, Hasbro announced that it would no longer finance the National SCRABBLE Association. They agreed to sanction a player-financed association that would continue the association’s activities.

Re-organization began right away, and the new not-for-profit North American SCRABBLE Players formed and began overseeing tournaments in July of 2009.  The new association is funded by Player membership, and tournament participation fees, and is assisted by the volunteerism of many committee members.

Nigel Richards becomes the first player to win the National SCRABBLE Championship and the North American SCRABBLE Championship five times.

Records by Year:

2008 (Orlando): 22-6, +1340, finishing 1st of 103

2010 (Dallas): 25-6, +2213, finishing 1st of 116

2011 (Dallas): 22-9, +1532, finishing 1st of 108

2012 (Orlando): 22-9, +1579, finishing 1st of 76

2013 (Las Vegas): 24-7, +1934, finishing 1st of 125

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