The incredible story of Scrabble’s inventor

2 min readJul 17, 2018


Anything truly worth doing is often a great test of one’s patience.

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The Great Depression was, as it’s name implies, not a particularly upbeat period in modern American history.

Many people were out of work with the resultant chaos spread throughout society.

With families to feed this forced many to try and find new and inventive ways of making money.

Alfred Butts was one such man.

Born in 1899 in the charming sounding Poughkeepsie, New York, Butts graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1924.

He wasn’t to practice for long.

In 1929, the famous stock market crash known as Black Tuesday resulted in widespread layoffs.

Out of work, Butts set about designing a new style of board game.

He studied existing games and discovered that, broadly speaking, they fell into three categories.

The first was ‘number’ games like bingo. The second was ‘move’ games like chess and the third was ‘word’ games.

Butts initially called his game Lexiko. The idea was rejected by all the games companies.

But he didn’t give up. Over time, Alfred refined his concept.

He added a board.

Again it was rejected.

He added points values for each letter.

It was still rejected.

He changed the number of tiles.

Still no joy.

And yet Alfred refused to throw in the towel.

He tried renaming the game to Cross-Cross Words.

You guessed it, this was also rejected.

Finally, after many years of trying, he asked advice and joined forces with a man named James Brunot.

The name was changed to Scrabble and in 1952, after more than twenty years of trying, the department store Macy’s placed a huge order.

Just two years later, Butts had sold 5 million Scrabble sets.

Which goes to show, achieving anything of real significance takes time. If you believe in what you’re doing then keep at it. As Churchill once opined, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”




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