The Origins of the Ouija Board

Halloween is just around the corner, so monsters, ghosts, and all manner of supernatural occurrences are on the minds of many. Some believe that Halloween is a time when spirits can more easily communicate with the living. To that end, some people who take this day seriously (or who just want to have a bit of scary fun), might break out a Ouija Board. This device, consisting of a board—usually like that of a board game—that is covered with letters and numbers, purports to be able to answer questions that the user asks of the spirit world. And while these interesting items have been in use for some time, many don’t really know where they originated.

Believe it or not, the origin of the Ouija Board is not so mystical at all.

In the 1840s, Spiritualism swept the United States. This movement involved spirit mediums, people who said they could communicate with the dead. One of the methods they used was the “talking board.” This was a precursor to the Ouija Board we know today and consisted of a board and a planchette. The board would often be marked with symbols whose meanings were known only to the medium. The planchette was a pointer that indicated the symbol the spirit wished to communicate to that medium.

When Elijah Bond, a businessman and attorney from Baltimore, Maryland heard about these boards, he saw a way to make some money. He wasn’t even a Spiritualist.

Bond gathered together some investors and created the first talking board meant to be used by a layperson. Instead of symbols it used letters and numbers that any literate person could understand. His sister-in-law, who was a medium, supposedly came up the name “Ouija” after asking the board what it should be called. It should be noted, however, that this medium admitted she was wearing a locket that contained a picture of a woman with the name “Ouija” painted above her head.

Next, Bond sought a patent for his device, and he took his medium sister-in-law with him to obtain it. At first, the patent officer was skeptical and demanded a demonstration that the board worked before he would grant it. He would only grant the patent if the board could guess his name, which he had not told Bond or the medium. The board promptly spelled out his name when operated by Bond and the medium, but Bond might have actually known his name all along since he was a patent attorney. The patent was granted on February 10, 1891, and the board was listed as a toy or game.

The toy, which was marketed as a family game, was a hit. Within a year, the company who manufactured the Ouija Boards had to open six additional factories, just so they could churn them out. But the success of the board angered professional mediums, who found themselves losing money to amateur mediums. But Spiritualism was a spent force at this point anyway, and the movement mostly died out within a few years. The popularity of the Ouija Board stayed strong, though, and is still made today. It even outsold the popular board game Monopoly in some years, and they can still be purchased today.

As an interesting side note, Elijah Bond’s gravestone depicts a Ouija board carved into the stone. You can see it in the Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

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