Vintage Voice: The Bizarre History of the Ouija Board

The Ouija Board made it’s debut into American Culture in February 1891, but it’s eerie connotations didn’t begin there. With original advertisements boasting of the game’s ability to tell the past, present, and future and it’s links between the known and unknown, it’s $1.50 price tag was justified by the powers of the board being proven at the Patent Office before it was allowed.

Although truth in advertising is hard to come by now a days, the boasting advertisements of the Ouija board turned out to be completely true.The games simplicity yet accuracy were, in fact, “interesting and mysterious” and had actually been proven in the office before the makers were allowed to proceed in their patent. According to interviews with descendants of the makers, “the chief patent officer demanded a demonstration—if the board could accurately spell out his name, which was supposed to be unknown to Bond and Peters, he’d allow the patent application to proceed. They all sat down, communed with the spirits, and the planchette faithfully spelled out the patent officer’s name. Whether or not it was mystical spirits or the fact that Bond, as a patent attorney, may have just known the man’s name, well, that’s unclear. But on February 10, 1891, a white-faced and visibly shaken patent officer awarded Bond a patent for his new “toy or game”.” Before the 1891 debut, the Ouija board’s history seems non-existent which leads historians and psychologists today to believe that this quite possibly could be a link between the known and unknown.

Ouija Historian Robert Murch began his research in 1992 with the shocking realization that something so iconic in pop culture could have so many holes within its origins. It is believed that the Ouija Board came along with the new found obsession with Spiritualism, that the dead and the living could engage in conversation that was not only normal, but completely and widely accepted. Although this belief was held throughout most of Europe, it was not until 1848 with the spreading news of the New York Fox Sisters. Presiding in upstate New York, the Fox sisters claimed to receive messages from spirits who banged on the walls in response to their questions, repeating their channeling skills across homes in state. With the celebrity spiritualists on the rise in American media, the game reached millions. In widely Christian America, Spiritualism worked perfectly. It ran in accordance with Christian dogma, so the average person could hold a séance on Saturday night and have no issues about going to church the next day. It was acceptable and wholesome to contact those who had passed and even offered solace in a time where the average lifespan was under 50 years. With people desperate to reach those who passed in war or in ways unforseen, one man, Charlie Kennard found a way to speed up the process of communication after hearing of a crude “talking board”. Charlie along with a few other associates created the Kennard Novelty Company, in which he mass produced Ouija Boards to aid those seeking loved ones in another world. None of the men of the company were spiritualists, only keen businessmen who had identified a niche.

With more than 120 years passing before the end of its production, the Oujia board proved to tap into a weird place in American Culture. It was the ultimate money maker for Kennard Novelty Company, marked as both family entertainment and a spiritual oracle, while also allowing the general population to have something fun to believe in. The true origins as well as how the board works is still in debate today.

The Ouija Board is a link between the unknown- but is the unknown the afterlife or our own subconscious knowledge?

By Sara Giarratano
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