History of the Ouija or Talking Boards
In the year 1848 in Hydesville, New York, the two Fox sisters, Kate and Margaret, made the first recorded contact with the spirit of a dead peddler. This started a national obsession that spread all across the United States and Europe and was the birth of modern Spiritualism.
The whole world seemed to be ready and waiting for communication with the afterlife. Spiritualist churches sprang up everywhere. People who had the special “gift” of communicating with the spirit world, were in great demand. They were given the name of mediums because they acted as intermediaries between spirits and humans. They invented a variety of interesting ways to communicate with the “other side”. Some real and some not so real.
Legend has it that the inventor of a device designed to help with these communications was M. Planchette, a French medium. In 1853, M. Planchett, is said to have invented the Planchette. This is a small heart shaped table with three legs, one of which is a lead pencil. The operator placed his fingers on top of the instrument. When it worked, the table moved over a paper and wrote out messages. However, the word “planchette” in French means little plank and suggests a more obvious explanation to this name.
(The Encyclopedia of Psychic Science indicates an instrument like the Ouija board was used in the days of Pythagorean, about 540 BC. This bit of information is left out of the Parker Brothers instruction booklet.)
The problem with table “turning” was that it took an incredibly long time to spell out a message and the writing was often difficult if not impossible to read. The mediums refined and made improvements to this by combining the planchette with a small alphanumeric table, added a rotating pointer, and came up with the first “talking board”.
These needle type talking boards were marketed under a number of names and variations themes into the 1900’s and were the forerunners of the original Ouija board.
In the United States, the planchette was a popular parlor game actively marketed by many toy companies. In the late 1880’s three enterprising Americans: E.C. Reiche, Elijah Bond, and Charles Kennard developed the concept that brought it all together.
Borrowing from the model of the earlier needle type talking boards, they created a new lap which the current Ouija boards still are modeled after. They used a planchette-like table with padded wooden pegs to permit a smooth glide over the surface of the board. All the medium had to do was connect to the spirit world and let the planchette move from letter to letter to spell out a message. Charles Kennard subsequently founded Kennard Novelty Company in 1890 began producing the first ever commercial line of Ouija boards. Unfortunately for him, Charles Kennard was not long for the Ouija business. In 1892 he was forced out of business by his financial backers using a hostile takeover. Kennard’s former shop foreman, William Fuld became the new owner and the one that history would remember as the inventor of the Ouija board.
Fuld changed the name of the firm to Ouija Novelty Company and with his brother and business partner Isaac, began turning out Ouijas in record numbers. Later the Ouija Novelty Company became the William Fuld Company.
Almost from the beginning, William Fuld’s Ouija board suffered fierce competition from other toy makers. Everyone wanted to make their own variation.
For thirty-five years William Fuld ran the company through good times and bad, until his death in February 1927. William’s heirs took over and ran the company until 1966, when they retired and sold the business to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers currently owns all trademarks and patents, and produces the board to this day. Except for the name at the bottom of the board, the design is an exact duplicate of the 1950’s William Fuld board.