History of the Ouija Board

When written language first came to be part of human culture, it was accorded high symbolic and esoteric value. It was seen as the repository of specialized knowledge and even a way of communication with the spiritual world, later seen in the phenomenon of automatic writing. The tradition of spirits communicating with the living through special symbols and letters became part of popular culture with the mass production of Ouija boards which can be used both as a parlor game as well as a divination technique which depends on contacting the denizens of the other world. For in-depth account of how this board came into being, here is a brief history of the Ouija board.

Ancient times

The exact time and place of the origin of the Ouija Board is somewhat obscure. Some people trace the history of the Ouija board back to the ancient Egyptians and the classical Greeks, while others trace it back to the Chinese. However so much is certain that in the ancient times automatic writing was one of the more common methods of divination which believed that spirits could guide the hand of a medium or a person with psychic powers so as to communicate with the world of the living. One of the first mentions of the automatic writing method using in the Ouija board is found in China around 1100 AD, in historical documents of the Song Dynasty where the method was known as fuji. In the book titled, Ouija Boards, authors Dr John Ankerberg and John Weldonancient Greeks used divination tools similar to today’s talking boards: “Divination was done with a table that moved on wheels to point to signs, which were interpreted as revelations from the unseen world”1.

Eighteenth-nineteenth centuries

The rise of Spiritualist movement in late eighteenth and through nineteenth centuries in Europe and America led to a further development in various forms of spirit boards or talking boards, which was the precursor of the Ouija board. An important addition to the spirit board was the planchette from the French for "little plank", that referred to a small, usually heart-shaped flat piece of wood that one moves around on a board to spell out messages or answer questions. However according to other sources, the pointer got its name from its inventor French Spiritualist named M. Planchette who came up with a device in the shape of a moving platform in 1853 which could be used for automatic writing. Whatever the origin, spiritualists and paranormal advocates came to believe that the planchette, whether used by itself or as part of the Ouija board was moved by some form of subtle energy or supernatural agent.

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Yet another name associated with the evolution of the Ouija board is that of Adolphus Theodore Wagner filed one of the first patents ," in London, England on January 23, 1854 for what was then called a "talking board. In the patent, Wagner called his invention a "psychograph" and its purpose was to read the minds of people with "nervous energy." By 1861, Frenchman, Allan Kardac, was describing the Ouija board as instruments with which to open communications with the spirit world. In seven short years, the Ouija board had evolved from a mind-reader to portal of communication with the dead.
During the late 19th century, planchettes were widely sold as a novelty. Two American businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard had the idea to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed. The two filed the patent on May 28, 1890 which was issued to them on February 10, 1891. The first Ouija board, as known in the modern sense, had thus been invented. Kennard He began producing the Ouija boards, then called the Egyptian Luck boards, in 1890 almost a year before patenting came through and was even selling them by 1891.

However very soon, an employee of Kennard, William Fuld took over the talking board production and in 1901, he started production of his own boards under the name "Ouija". While Kennard claimed he learned the name "Ouija" from using the board and that it was an ancient Egyptian word meaning "good luck", when Fuld took over production of the boards, he popularized the more widely accepted etymology, that the name came from a combination of the French and German words for "yes" – oui in French and ja in German. In this way, Fuld rewrote the history of the Ouija board, , claiming that he was the one to have invented it and even suing many companies over the "Ouija" name and concept right up until his death in 1927. The Fuld name would become synonymous with the Ouija board which saw its popularity soar from the 1920s through the 1960s.

As testimony to the Ouija board’s paranormal associations, the untimely death of William Fuld gave rise to a number of theories. In 1927, while attempting to repair a flagpole at his factory, he fell through three stories. Badly injured upon landing, Fuld was rushed to the nearest hospital where he later died as a result of his injuries – his heart was pierced by a broken rib. The incident was construed by believers of the paranormal as influenced by malicious spirits. Some stories suggest that the Ouija board that he popularized had something to do with Fuld’s death or that negative spirits or spirit possession caused him to commit suicide. However a witness that saw the incident later testified that Fuld made serious attempts to prevent the fall, even going as far as clutching at a window frame while he fell.

In 1966, Fuld's estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers, which was sold to Hasbro in 1991, and which continues to hold all trademarks and patents. As of now about ten brands of talking boards are sold today under various names. According to an anecdote, more Ouija boards have been sold throughout history than any other board game.  This includes Parker Brothers' own Monopoly.

Reference:

  1. Ankerberg, John, and John Weldon. The Ouija Board—Part One. 19 Feb. 2008