Entertainment during President Wilson’s time was much different than today. Technology hadn’t provided the world with the internet or television. Board games were one of the most entertaining ways to avoid boredom, and the Wilsons had no shortage of board games around the house.
During this time, many board games were being created and prototypes were being distributed. One game that may have fallen under this category dates from 1910 entitled “State Capitols.” This specific game was given to Wilson as a gift from its manufacturer, F. N. Puckett, although the game was never produced on a large scale. Attached to it is a personal note to Wilson, the then-governor of New Jersey.
The note reads, “Gov. Woodrow Wilson, You have carried almost all of the “Capitals.” Your next move will be to Washington D.C. for a glorious administration. I am F. N. Puckett, Denison Texas”
Today, many people know “The Game of War” to be a card game. However, a board game by the same name was very popular during Wilson’s time, having been created in 1920. Belonging to the same class of board games as chess and checkers, “The Game of War” was played on a bigger board with pieces similar to chess but known by different names. The names were much more indicative of war than chess: there were Generals instead of Queens, Cannons instead of Bishops, Cavalry instead of Knights, Mortars instead of Rooks, Rear and Van Troops instead of Pawns, and a new addition of “Flying Machines.”
Another game hugely popular during the 1920’s was Mahjong. Marketed as “The Great Chinese Game” and “The Genuine Chinese Game,” the game invited a sense of worldliness and culture to those who played it. Players often dressed in Chinese costumes and even decorated the room with a Chinese flair when they played. Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Wilson, loved fashion and liked to get dressed up. Perhaps she used to dress up with her friends in one of her Chinese gowns and play! The Wilsons owned many of these Mahjong sets, including one cased in an old Cuban cigar box.
Edith enjoyed many other games like bridge and bowling. Her original bowling set from 1941 used on the lawn in the gardens is still in the house, with her initials and those of her friends from a game played sometime after the late President’s death.
Other games that Edith kept in the house (besides an enormous amount of playing cards) after the President’s death included “Camelot” dating from 1930, “Monopoly” dating from 1935, “Skyscraper Game” dating from 1937, and Bottoms Up” dating from 1935.
While board games were more of a new commodity during his time, Woodrow also enjoyed playing golf and shuffleboard. Here is a rare video of the President playing shuffleboard with American delegates on the ship to France in 1919 to sign the Peace Treaty:
Edith left all of these games in the house at the time of her death. This gives us the opportunity to display these games and study them to learn more about what people did for fun in the first half of the 20th century, during the rise of leisure time. These board games give us an indication that table-top games were new and very popular at the time, intertwining with more established leisurely activities.