Reuben Klamer, the original creator of The Game of Life, did not approach publisher Milton Bradley with the idea of selling them a board game.
As Klamer says in The Game of Life: An Inventor's Chronicle, a booklet published by Hasbro to celebrate the game's 50th anniversary in 2010, "I came to Milton Bradley -- now Hasbro -- in Springfield, Massachusetts, in June 1959 to try to sell them an art center concept. I was turned down. However, James Shea, Sr., president of Milton Bradley asked me if I would develop a game in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Milton Bradley Company. I immediately accepted this challenge."
Months later, Milton Bradley was showing off The Game of Life, which would become an instant family classic.
I was able to spend a few minutes talking with Klamer at the 2010 American International Toy Fair in New York City. Sitting in the Hasbro showroom, Klamer was clearly in his element -- relaxed and obviously pleased with the new 50th Anniversary Edition of The Game of Life which Hasbro will release later this year.
Klamer said he remembers unveiling The Game of Life for the first time at the 1960 American International Toy Fair in Milton Bradley's showroom. "The room was packed with buyers," he said. "And after we showed them the game, we wrote a lot of orders on the spot."
The enthusiasm in that room gave Klamer confidence that The Game of Life would become a hit: "When you get the buyers excited, you have a good chance of success."
Still, he never imagined that 50 years later his game would have sold more than 50 million copies. "I wasn't sure," he said. "But I had high hopes."
One of the keys, he added, was having popular television host Art Linkletter on board endorsing The Game of Life right from the start. Klamer had previously worked with Linkletter on a competitor to the hula hoop (known as the Spin-a-Hoop), and he said Linkletter filmed a commercial for The Game of Life "right away" to help encourage sales.
Klamer, who received a B.S. degree with a concentration in marketing from Ohio State University and did postgraduate work in engineering at the University of Michigan, is credited with inventing more than 200 products. In addition to toys and games, he has worked in industries as diverse as textiles, plastics, aviation, publishing, music and film.
In 2009, Klamer received the 2009 TAGIE (Toy and Game Inventor Expo) Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2005, he was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame; and in 2000, he was inducted into the Hasbro Inventor's Hall of Fame.
Klamer believes that The Game of Life has remained so popular for so long because it features "tremendous interaction between the players" and because players are faced with several important decisions as the game progresses.
When he plays, Klamer enjoys come-from-behind wins using the "Spin to Win" spaces. "I love to put my money on number two and then spin the wheel," he said with a grin. "The ability to come from behind is very important."