Bradley also sold “Games for Soldiers,” a set of nine “fireside” games that included backgammon, chess, checkers, dominoes, and “The Checkered Game of Life.” The set was billed in holiday wartime advertisements as “just the thing to send to the boys in camp or hospital for a Christmas present.” The games were put up in a small box weighing a few ounces and could be sent by mail, postpaid, to any address for just one dollar.(7)
Other games released during the war by Bradley’s firm – now styled Milton Bradley & Co. - included “Modern Hieroglyphics,” “Patriot Heroes,” and “What is It?” Bradley also sold a plaything called the “Contraband Gymnast,” which he described as the “most amusing toy ever invented.” Not restrained by modern sensibilities, Bradley also billed the toy as the “Comical Darkey.” Nor did he completely set aside making prints; in 1863, Bradley fashioned a handsome tobacco label for C.S. Allen & Co. featuring designs to appeal to patriotic sentiments. The label bore the likeness of two women personifying “Liberty” and Union,” both framed in an ornate oval surmounted by an eagle with a shield. (8)
Just as Bradley had capitalized on Abraham Lincoln’s popularity before the war, he took advantage of postwar patriotism by producing and selling his “Myriopticon.” This toy consisted of a painted scroll - “a Historical Panorama of the Rebellion” – that contained nearly two dozen scenes from the Civil War. The scroll, mounted on two rollers arranged inside a sturdy cardboard box, was turned by a key so that the panorama passed across a proscenium arch cut into the top of the box, which was decorated in red, white, and blue bunting and other patriotic embellishments.
The package included a poster to advertise the performance, admission tickets, and a stirring (and sometimes humorous) text to be read aloud by the child-showman. One satisfied customer wrote the company that his family had elected him “as head of the family to recite the lecture and turn the pictures, which I do every evening.” So popular was his performance that his neighbors would descend on the house for encores. The customer added that his brother “was at the War…and says it is just as your game represents it to be” and hoped that Bradley would sell many more so “as to make it less crowded in our parlor.” (9)
Later in life, Bradley devoted his energies to promoting interest in kindergarten education in America. He retired from Milton Bradley & Co. in 1907, and died in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1911. The company he founded continued to dominate the country’s game market through the twentieth century. In 1959, Milton Bradley executives asked Reuben Klamer, a noted toy and game inventor, to come up with an appropriate game for the company’s centennial. Inspired by a copy of “The Checkered Game of Life” he found in the Milton Bradley archives, Klamer developed “The Game of Life,” which was introduced in 1960. Hasbro, Inc., acquired Milton Bradley & Co. in 1984, but kept the brand as it was beloved by generations, including soldiers and families in the Civil War.
(1) “We are dying…” in McPherson, J. M., For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 31.
(3) “look a great deal better” in letter, Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln, October 18, 1860, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
(5) Scientific American, September 10, 1864, p. 168.
(7) Advertisement, Scientific American, December 10, 1864, p. 382.
(8) Advertisement, Scientific American, December 10, 1864, p. 382; “Contraband Gymnast” in advertisement, Scientific American, October 22, 1864, p. 271. Tobacco label in Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
(9) “in the parlor…”; “was the War…”; and “so as to make…” in Shea, J. J., It’s All in the Game (New York: Putnam’s 1960), pp. 81-82.