A Brief History of the Ouija Board

As a method of supposed communication with the spirit world, the Ouija board has terrified countless slumber partying children and served as a plot vehicle in a number of Hollywood films. Here’s where it came from.

Spiritualism and Pre-Ouija Methods

Ouija boards have their roots in Spiritualism, which began in the United States in the late 1840s. (Claims that ancient Ouija boards existed are unfounded.) The new movement was led by mediums, who claimed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead.

There were a number of ways mediums made followers believe that they were communicating messages from those who had passed. One, table turning, involved the table moving or knocking on the floor in response to letters called out from the alphabet. Another method used planchettes, heart-shaped devices with two wheels at one end and a pencil at the point; users would place their fingers on the device, which would then be guided by spirits who would “write” messages.

Both methods were problematic. Table turning took too long, and planchette writing was hard to decipher. According to the Museum of Talking Boards, some mediums got rid of these methods altogether, preferring to channel while in a trance, while others built complicated tables, dials, and tables painted with letters that required people to use a planchette as a pointer. This method became the most popular—and paved the way for the Ouija board.

Rise of The Talking Board

In 1886, the New York Daily Tribune reported on a new talking board being used in Ohio. It was 18 by 20 inches and featured the alphabet, numbers, and the words yes, no, good evening, and goodnight; the only other necessary object was a “little table three or four inches high … with four legs” that the spirits could use to identify letters. The brilliance of the board was that anyone could make it—the tools suggested in the article are “a jack-knife and a marking brush."

Operating the board was similarly easy:

You take the board in your lap, another person sitting down with you. You each grasp the little table with the thumb and forefinger at each corner next to you. Then the question is asked, ‘Are there any communications?’ Pretty soon you think the other person is pushing the table. He thinks you are doing the same. But the table moves around to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Then you go on asking questions and the answers are spelled out by the legs on the table resting on the letters one after the other.

(Of course, any messages generated probably weren't from spirits; instead, they were likely a result of the Ideomotor effect. This psychological phenomenon was first described in 1852 by William Benjamin Carpenter who, in a scientific paper analyzing how talking boards worked, theorized that muscular movement can be independent of conscious desires.)

Ouija: The Game

These types of talking boards became very popular, and in 1890, Elijah Bond, Charles Kennard and William H.A. Maupin had the idea to turn the board into a toy. They filed the first patent for a game they called the Ouija board, which looked and operated much like the talking boards in Ohio; the patent was granted in 1891. The name, according to Kennard, came from using the board, and was an ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck.” The Kennard Novelty Company manufactured the boards, which were made of five pieces of wood across the face braced by two vertical slats on the back; they retailed for $1.50.

Kennard left the company in 1891, and the Kennard Novelty Company became the Ouija Novelty Company. William Fuld, an employee there, eventually took over production of the boards; in 1901, he began making his own boards under the name Ouija, which Fuld said came from a combination of the French and German words for “yes”—the etymology that is accepted today.

Fuld would go on to design many different versions of the board (he holds more Ouija patents and copyrights than anyone else in history—a grand total of 21 registrations in three countries—including the design for the modern planchette). Because of the board’s huge success, a number of competitors tried their hands at creating their own Ouija-like devices. Fuld sued many of those copycats, right up until his death in 1927.

In 1966, Fuld’s estate sold the family business—which included more than just Ouija boards—to Parker Brothers, which manufactured the modern boards as we know them today. In 1991, Parker Brothers was sold to Hasbro, which now holds all the Ouija rights and patents (and might even make a movie based on the game).

15 Forgotten Summertime Activities We Need To Bring Back

iStock/wundervisuals
iStock/wundervisuals

Summer is here and it’s time to enjoy the sunshine. It’s also the perfect time to take a break from technology. Ditch your TV, shut down social media, and go outside. To do what, you might ask? Here are 15 summer activities from yesteryear that we should totally revive in popular culture.

1. Skipping rocks

Here’s a recipe for a classic summer: put down the video game, go outside, and throw rocks at water. Once you’ve mastered the flick of the wrist required to get the right amount of spin on your stone, it’s hard to stop counting how many skips you get on each throw.

2. Playing loggits

This game played in Tudor England was sort of like a cheap version of horseshoes. Players stuck a stick in the ground and took turns throwing other sticks at it. Whoever got their stick closest to the target won the game. Consider this activity more proof that all you need to have fun is some yard debris and a sunny day. 

3. Rolling a hoop

Two young girls rolling hoops in a London park in the 1930s
Fox Photos/Getty Images

You’ve probably seen this one in old-timey paintings, but chances are you’ve never rolled a hoop. The activity, also known as trundling a hoop, requires nothing more than a wooden hoop and a small wooden rod like a dowel. For centuries, kids amused themselves by running along and tapping the hoop with the rod to keep it rolling on a straight course. Easy to learn but tough to master, this one kept generations of kids out of mischief. 

4. Having an outdoor dance

“Schottische” is a traditional folk dance, much like a slower polka. It has long been a popular dance at Swedish midsummer festivals, which celebrate the season’s warmth and long daylight hours.

5. Growing giant vegetables

Giant pumpkins in a field in China
China Photos/Getty Images

Giant crop competitions appear in several state fairs. The tradition is particularly notable in Alaska, where longer sunlight hours during the summer make growing enormous produce easier. One Alaskan has grown seven world-record-sized vegetables, including a 76-pound cabbage! Most people no longer grow their own food, but taking pride in creating something uniquely huge is a vital American tradition.

6. Using bathing machines

Before string bikinis were considered appropriate beach attire, Victorian ladies frolicked in the surf within the confines of a bathing machine. These private carts gave women a sheltered space to change their clothes right on the water. Sure, most women are no longer afraid of being seen in a bathing suit, but wouldn’t it be nice to have your own private hut in the surf?

7. Heading to the summer farm

In agrarian Scandinavia, farmers traditionally lived on one farm during the winter and on another in the summer. When the weather warmed, farmers would take their livestock up into the mountains to feed in the meadows while they made repairs and grew hay on their home farm. Milkmaids would stay in the mountains for the summer months with the goats, sheep, and cows, milking them to make butter and cheese. A scenic rural getaway surrounded by dairy products? Yes, please. 

8. Sculpting things out of butter

Carving sculptures out of chilled butter is an American art that dates back to the 1870s, when a woman from Arkansas sculpted the main character of a 19th century Danish play in bas relief using brooms and sticks for Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition. The activity later became a staple of state fairs, and while it still goes on today, the practice could really use a revival in general culture. The best art is edible.

9. Playing a sidewalk game

Young girls play hopscotch on a sidewalk in the 1970s
Ian Tyas/Getty Images

In early 20th century New York City, kids played a popular street game called Skully. They would draw a large square on the asphalt or cement with several numbered boxes drawn inside the board, then flick bottle caps onto those targets in numerical order.

10. Having a garden party

Victorian England was known for its garden parties, when fancy socialites would gather on carefully manicured lawns to enjoy the nice weather. Guests enjoyed lawn tennis, live music, dancing, and races. While country estates are harder to come by these days, a little backyard lawn tennis followed by tea sandwiches is the perfect way to spend a summer’s day.

11. Taking a road trip

As America’s interstate highway system connected more places and more people bought cars, road trips became a popular vacation after World War II. However, higher gas prices and fewer vacation days eventually made the quintessential family getaway a little less popular. The freedom of the open road may be back within reach—at least for this summer.

12. Legally opening up a fire hydrant

Red fire hydrant gushing water
iStock/tfoxfoto

Flooding the street completely on a hot summer day is a no-no, but city slickers trapped in the heat can still create an urban oasis on a hot day. New York City, for one, offers fitted caps that funnel a gentle spray of water out of an opened hydrant—legally. Your block could be home to the tiniest of water parks.

13. Celebrating the summer solstice

Since ancient times, people have celebrated the longest day of the year with dancing, food, bonfires, and more. Try celebrating it the way they do in Sweden: Traditionally, Scandinavians clean out their houses and decorate them with flowers before the holiday.

14. Tuning into the radio

Vintage radio sitting on a mid-century dresser
iStock/Spiderstock

An integral part of the warm weather season is the so-called “song of summer,” that one tune that seemingly plays in the background wherever you go. Online radio isn’t the only way to find your summer jam. Listening to a favorite rock DJ is no longer how most people get their music, but there’s a bonus that comes with hauling out your old portable radio: You can take it to the beach.

15. Spreading a hoax about a sea monster

During the summer of 1937, newspapers in Nantucket began publishing accounts of a mysterious sea serpent that had come ashore, based on photographs of giant footprints on the beach. As it turned out, the New England seaside’s huge monster was an inflatable balloon, staged by a local puppeteer to draw attention to his shop.

Hotels.com Wants to Pay You $10,000 to Test Out Some of America’s Fanciest Hotel Pools

iStock/FTiare
iStock/FTiare

Getting paid to hang out by the pool all summer may sound like a job that's too good to be true. But popular hotel booking site Hotels.com is looking to hire one lucky "Poolhop" to do just that—and pay them $10,000 for their efforts.

According to the official job application, "The Poolhop’s responsibilities are simple; travel to some of the most incredible hotel pools across the country, sip on fruity drinks, snap some photos, sport a hotel robe, and report back to reward-loving Hotels.com fans."

Along with the $10,000 stipend, the Poolhop's perks will include paid airfare and accommodations at six hotels across the country, one year of Hotels.com Gold Rewards member status, and “eternal bragging rights.” The only serious requirements are that applicants be at least 21 years of age and a U.S. resident. They must also, of course, know how to swim.

Thrillist reports that the chosen hotels aren’t your average accommodations, either. The Poolhop will get to dive into luxury at Hawaii's Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the Mondrian Los Angeles, the SLS Las Vegas, Colorado's Garden of the Gods Club and Resort, The William Vale Hotel in New York City, and Miami Beach's National Hotel.

“No one wants to be sitting at a desk all summer,” Katie Junod, general manager of the Hotels.com brand in North America, said. "There are so many incredible hotel pools to explore across the country, and we want to give travelers a first-hand look at the crème de la crème. And who better to live the hotel life than our very own Hotels.com Poolhop?”

The trip will take place during two weeks in August. All applications must be filled out and submitted by Tuesday, June 25th. And don't forget your sunscreen!

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