“Here’s your chance to be a Congressman!” an advertisement read. In 1949, Milton Bradley introduced Lobby: A Capital Game, a board game meant to be both educational and fun. However, legislation and lobbying may not have been quite as entertaining as the toymaker expected.
“The Game Board portrays the progress of a Bill through the Congress, and to this extent is educational and informative,” the instruction booklet explains halfheartedly. The brightly colored board includes the White House at the bottom and the House and Senate Chambers in the upper corners, with rows of seats for the House and desks for the Senate. At the top, the Capitol rises majestically in front of a cloud that reads, “We the people of the United States do . . . .”
The board depicts the snaking path a bill might take from the House or the Senate all the way to the President signing it into law, with colorful squares marking events along the way. On a Senate-side square labeled “Filibuster,” an exaggeratedly authoritative man stands, accompanied by a pitcher and a glass of water to quench his thirst during a long speech. Between the swooping paths run a House Page in long pants and a Senate Page in knickers, each with a goofy, earnest expression.
Lobby grew out of one family’s experience in Washington. Ruth Hatch, a journalist and homemaker, and her husband Douglas, a registered lobbyist, tried to make Congress exciting for their son. Hoping to qualify him for a position as a Senate Page, they drew the route of how a bill becomes a law.
They imagined that the detailed, and occasionally circuitous, path might work as the premise of a game. Mr. Hatch brought the idea to Milton Bradley, and the company rushed to produce it before the session of Congress ended in 1949. Although it turned out that a game about congressional procedure did not have the same longevity as Monopoly, Lobby enjoyed some interest from educators when the company first released it. The Washington Post reported in 1950 that Detroit schools used the game to teach students about Congress.
Milton Bradley promoted the game with radio and television advertisements, as well as print ads asserting, “Here’s top-level Washington at its hilarious best.” The company also sponsored a half-hour television spot promoting the game, in which Mr. Hatch played himself but, awkwardly, an actress portrayed Mrs. Hatch. In the program, Hatch decides to run for Congress, and flashbacks show the couple playing Lobby. The Springfield Sunday Republican reported that “the program closed on the laughable note that the husband, because of his place of residence, wasn’t eligible to run.”
In the board game, each player, acting as a Member of Congress, attempts to shepherd a bill into law. Depending on where the player’s piece lands, his or her bill is placed in the hopper, referred to a committee, voted on by roll call, or subjected to a pocket veto (which sends the bill back to the start), to name just a few possibilities. In addition, Congressional Record cards, parliamentary procedure cards, and bill cards complicate play.
The game incorporates lobbyists and constituents, although the special interests represented are intentionally silly. If a player lands on a yellow square, he or she must pick a Congressional Record card. Each one has a tiny version of an actual Congressional Record printed on one side. On the other side, the card explains—often with a pun—how groups feel about the bill. Based on these opinions, the player and his or her bill progresses, stays put, or moves back. For example, one Congressional Record card quips: “The Ancient Order of Spark Plugs is plugging for your Bill. GO AHEAD ONE SPACE.” Another, less promising, card scowls: “The Men’s Bass Casting Association issues a statement opposing your Bill. GO BACK FOUR SPACES.”
Against a backdrop of federal regulation and congressional investigation into lobbying, Milton Bradley introduced children to Lobby. Congress had begun to look into the extent of lobbying and influence on the House. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 included the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, which required lobbyists to register with the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate. Three years later, the House formed the Select Committee on Lobbying Activities, also called the Buchanan Committee, to explore the scope and methods of influence over congressional activities.
The toymaker bet that cloture, filibusters, quorum, and conference committees would be a big hit with the kids. One person who didn’t play Lobby, however, was its co-inventor, Mr. Hatch—as a lobbyist, he had other things on his mind. “At the moment, he’s not playing it,” the Post gossiped. “It is rumored that he’s too busy getting ready for a possible appearance before the Buchanan Committee investigating lobbies and lobbying.” Despite the newspaper’s speculation, Hatch did not end up testifying before the Buchanan Committee in 1950—but, that March, he did appear before a Judiciary subcommittee.
Sources: Springfield Sunday Republican, 16 October 1949; Washington Post, 9 January 1950; Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, 79th Cong., 2nd sess., 60 Stat. 812 (1946); General Interim Report of the House Select Committee on Lobbying Activities, 81st Cong., 2nd sess., H. Rept. 3138 (1950), Hearing Before Subcommittee No. 3 of the House Committee on the Judiciary on the Relief of Universal Corporation, James Stewart Corporation, and James Stewart and Company, Incorporated, 81st Cong., 2nd sess. (1950).Follow @USHouseHistory