Candy Land is one of the most popular children’s board games of all time, selling an average of one million units a year. I played it for hours with our kids and have begun doing the same with my grandkids.
But I did not know the story behind the game, a narrative that is remarkably relevant to our time.
In 1948, retired schoolteacher Eleanor Abbott invented the game in a San Diego hospital. She had been diagnosed with polio. During her convalescence, she was surrounded by children suffering from the same horrible disease. She wanted to create a game that would entertain them during their painful and lonely days.
Candy Land became so popular among the young hospital patients that Abbott decided to pitch it to Milton Bradley, one of the leading toy-manufacturing companies. It quickly became their best-selling board game.
The game was especially helpful during polio outbreaks. Children left alone in hospitals without their parents would often be overcome with feelings of abandonment and homesickness. But even those as young as three years old could play the game since it requires no reading or writing, only the ability to identify colors.
During the height of the polio epidemic in the 1950s, children were prohibited from congregating at public pools, lakes, or parks to prevent the spread of the disease. Most board games were designed for all-family play, but Candy Land could be played by children who were confined indoors alone.
What did Eleanor Abbott do with her royalty income from her best-selling game?
She donated it entirely to charities dedicated to serving children in need.