Candy Land More than Just a Sweet Little Game According to American J. of Play

American Journal of Play News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 • 585-263-2700 •

April 11, 2011

For Immediate Release

Susan Trien,, 585-410-6359

Candy Land More than Just a Sweet Little Game
According to the American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, New York—Generations of children have navigated Gumdrop Mountain and a world of luscious candies in the iconic game of Candy Land. First marketed in 1949  as a “sweet little game for sweet little folks,” Candy Land—a board game that rose from the terrifying polio epidemic of the mid- twentieth century—has had a cultural impact that is “anything but little,” according Samira Kawash, Professor Emerita in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. Writing in the American Journal of Play, a quarterly scholarly journal of The Strong, Kawash presents the most comprehensive study to date of the history, packaging, marketing, and cultural and literary influences surrounding the iconic game.

With more than 40 million copies of the game sold since 1949, more than 94 percent awareness of the game by today’s mothers, and over 60 percent of households with a five-year-old today owning a copy of the game, most people would be surprised to learn of Candy Land’s origins. Schoolteacher Eleanor Abbott invented Candy Land in 1948 while recuperating in a polio ward in San Diego. Seeking to help children allay the tedium of the ward, her simple, undemanding game required only that players be able to recognize colors and count and could be easily played without adult supervision in the bustling hospital ward. In this open-ended, looping game, the Cherry Pits and Molasses Swamp act as gentle delays, prolonging the game’s ending and making it an ideal way to keep children quiet and happy.  One of the earliest Candy Land boards, in fact, appears to have a picture of a child in a leg brace, a detail that disappeared in subsequent printings.

The 1950s polio scare produced parental panic—swimming pools emptied, parks cleared out, civic events were deserted. People stayed away from crowds. And parents kept kids indoors. Kawash says frightened parents seeking to prevent their children’s exposure may have seized upon the game as an indoor alternative to the dangers lurking outside.        

Candy Land proved so popular that Abbott sold the idea to Milton Bradley and it became one of the company’s most successful products and ultimately big business for Hasbro, Inc., its current manufacturer. The original 1949 box (featuring three children in the forest peering at a gingerbread house) differs markedly from packaging introduced in 1985 (picturing characters like King Kandy, Queen Frostline, and Princess Lolly). Kawash suggests that the initial packaging images are reminiscent of the iconic Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, where children were abandoned in the forest. During the polio epidemic, with lengthy hospitalizations, children often found themselves similarly separated from parents.  However, the Candy Land forest is neither dark nor scary. The game helped to ameliorate the parent-child separation, transforming the experience of the polio ward “into a sugar-laced holiday.”

The game itself, long popular, evolved over the next six decades. According to Kawash, each new edition of Candy Land helps reveal the ways that parenting styles have evolved over generations. An extreme makeover in 1985, for example, was meant to appeal more to children who themselves were becoming consumers or influencing buying decisions. Themed Candy Land editions featuring such popular characters as Dora the Explorer or Winnie the Pooh, and spin-off movies and merchandise “have abandoned education in favor of pure entertainment aimed solely at children.”

Concludes the author, “The history of the game, its origins, its packaging, and its marketing, as well as the broader cultural and literary influences that shape the idea of children and candy expressed in the game, all of these tell us quite a lot about how adults envisioned the children they hoped to teach, protect, heal, or entertain.” However, “the children who actually sat down with Candy Land board, with other children or with their parents, found many ways of play around or alongside or in spite of the aims and intentions of adults. And perhaps that is what is really fun about playing Candy Land.”              


About the American Journal of Play (a publication of The Strong in Rochester, New York): 

Peer-reviewed and written in a clear, straightforward style, the American Journal of Play is the first interdisciplinary journal dedicated solely to the study of play. Providing thought-provoking content from some of the most prominent national researchers and writers in the field, each issue is filled with articles, essays interviews, and book reviews that explore the critical role of play in learning and human development. To view the most current issue’s table of contents,