225: Way Past ‘Go’: The Marathon Monopoly Game

By Joe Chilson | Staff Writer

Students of fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu, Eddie Leeds, Alan Paulenoff, Mike Lauik, Bruce Waldman and Howie Fogel are seen participating in the 1961 marathon Monopoly game. The Pitt News file photoMonopoly’s game board is a street-by-street replica of Atlantic City, NJ. But the game’s most historic moment may have occurred right here in Pittsburgh.

On Monday, Nov. 27, 1961, four Pitt students sat down to play a game of Monopoly. By the time they stopped, they had made a mark on the history of the iconic game that stands to this day.

The record for the longest Monopoly marathon ever played was set here at Pitt in 1961, when brothers from the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity played for five days straight.

The original players were Sigma Alpha Mu brothers Eddie Leeds, Howard Finkel, Allen Paulenoff and Sherman Fogel. As they played, the brothers pooled their resources and split into teams — Leeds and Finkel versus Paulenoff and Fogel. But with the players working together, it became much harder to knock anyone out of the game.

“Somebody had a Monopoly game, and we started to play this thing. And sooner or later, we realized that we couldn’t end it,” said Eddie Leeds, who will be 70 this January, but still remembers the game in remarkable detail.

According to Leeds, the game dragged on for hours into Monday night. When it still hadn’t ended by Tuesday morning, the brothers all decided that they couldn’t just stop. They wanted to let people know that they weren’t going to. So Leeds called KDKA Pittsburgh’s local news affiliate and told them, “Hey, we’re in the middle of a Monopoly game that we can’t end, and we’re going to keep this thing going.”

Leeds told KDKA that they could send someone down to the fraternity house on Dithridge Street if they wanted to see the game for themselves. At 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a KDKA representative found the brothers still hard at play and decided to pick up the story.

By the time dawn rolled around on Tuesday, the four brothers needed to think up a way to keep their game going and still attend to their other commitments — like class. They started playing in shifts, with other fraternity brothers and pledges playing for the teams in their absence.

According to Leeds, different people would take shifts of about an hour or an hour and a half, and there were about 30 people who played in the game at one time or another over the course of the five days.

On Wednesday, the game ran into trouble. As anyone who’s even brushed with Monopoly will be aware, a player receives $200 every time he or she passes the space “Go.” The Sigma Alpha Mu brothers had passed “Go” so many times by this point that their bank had run out of money. So naturally, the players wired Parker Brothers, the makers of Monopoly, to suggest a course of action.

As recorded in The Pitt News story about the debacle, the coverage of the game in the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity magazine, and the current directions to Monopoly itself, Parker Brothers did not let this stand. Upon receiving the message of the marathon gamers’ distress, Parker Brothers President Robert Barton wired them back.

“Refuse to let bank fail. Rushing one million Monopoly dollars to you by airmail — carry on.”

According to The Pitt News story from 1961, the brothers loaned back some of their Monopoly money to the bank so they could continue playing while the reserve funds were being flown to Pittsburgh International Airport.

The $1 million in Monopoly money was picked up at the airport by Brink’s Security armored trucks and driven to the fraternity house, arriving on Thursday night, by which time the brothers had broken the bank again.

At this point, the story was picked up by major news outlets across the country, including The Wall Street Journal. According to Leeds, the Journal thought the game was an excellent representation of inflation.

The story from the Sigma Alpha Mu magazine reported that, “Several economics professors suggested their students watch the game and see how the value of money can be deflated when too much of it is in circulation.”

“That’s how a story went viral in those days,” Leeds said.

The game went on for two more days, but with finals fast approaching, the brothers knew it would have to end sometime. According to the Sigma Alpha Mu magazine, they decided to end it on Saturday, Dec. 2 at the fraternity’s Founders Day Dinner.

“You get pretty crazy after playing Monopoly for five days,” Leeds said.

The Pitt News article reported that the last dice were thrown by Parker Brothers Vice President Randolph Barton, leaving the final results at Finkel and Leeds with $146,000 and Paulenoff and Fogel with $133,000. After five days and 120 and a half hours, history’s longest Monopoly game was over.

At the dinner, Barton awarded the fraternity with a wooden embossed edition of

Monopoly, as well as 100 copies of assorted games, which were donated to the Greater Pittsburgh United Fund and distributed at Christmas that year to needy children in the Pittsburgh area.

At the time, Fogel was quoted in The Pitt News as saying, “There will be no rematch, at least not until after the end of this trimester.”