National Scrabble Day Enjoys Upstate New York Roots
Next time you sit down in your kitchen or living room--or maybe at The Wanna Play Cafe in North Utica--for a game of Scrabble, consider the game's Upstate New York origins and its creator.
Alfred Mosher Butts was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on April 13, 1899, which is why National Scrabble Day is celebrated annually on April 13th. Butts came up with the concept for the game in 1938, but it didn't become popular until years later, after he sold the rights. In designing it, Butts studied the The New York Times to calculate the frequency of each letter's use in common communication, then assigned values to each letter.
Big-time game companies originally rejected it, but in 1948 Butts found a buyer in Connecticut entrepreneur James Brunot, who made a few minor adjustments and came up with the iconic name that stuck. Good thing. Butts had wanted to call his game Lexiko or Criss Cross Words or even...It--and, it's really tough to imagine playing a board game with the same name as Stephen King's terrifying fictional monster.
In 1949, Brunot and his wife manufactured 2,400 Scrabble sets, but lost $450. Good fortune intervened, though, when a vacationing Macy's executive saw the game being played at a resort and resolved to stock it and sell it at the famous New York City store. Within three years, the Brunots could no longer keep up with demand, and licensed game maker Selchow & Righter became the exclusive marketer and distributor.
As of today, 150 million sets have been sold worldwide, including one to two million each year in North America alone. We own three or four sets at our home.