» Home > In the News

The Ouija Board

4 November 2013

The Smithsonian has an interesting piece on the history of the ouija board – a favourite prop of Agatha Christie and ilk, and universally condemned by others. As a tool for a novel the ouija board has served the various writers well – but does it work (see www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Strange-and-Mysterious-Hi…

It goes back to 1891 when advertisements began to appear in the Pittsburgh area newspapers and was sold in toy and novelty shops as a 'talking board', a magic device. However, it came out of the movement known as Spiritualism and the belief that the dead are able to communicate with the living. I can remember my grandparents being rather disparaging of it and I've never had any inclination to test it out as I accepted it was all bunkum. However, it seems to have passed a test set up by the US Patents Office – due to a ruse (or a little bit of information known by the manufacturer and not by the patents officer). In effect, they knew his name, unbeknown to him – and the board duly tapped out his name to his astonishment. The manufacturers never looked back – from one novelty factory in Baltimore they expanded to two in Balitimore, two in New York, two in Chicago, and one in London. Can't be bad.

It seems that as spiritualism became popular so did frustration with how long it took to get a meaningful message out of the spirits. The ouija board provided a rapid response. It paroved to be a moneymaker – and the more it was associated with the evil arts from the hieght of the pulpit the more it appealed to people.

Skip to content