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A boy seated sideways at a desk writing with a file cabinet to hi right and a telephone on the desk at his left
A boy working for J.J. O'Brien and Sons on East 23 Street, New York City (Lewis Hine/Library of Congress)

Moving from Office Boy to Head of Firm

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After I ran across an image of the Office Boy board game from Parker Brothers, I just had to know more. I couldn’t find much about the game itself beyond what is visible on the board, but it is often mentioned alongside board games like Mansion of Happiness: An Instructive Moral and Entertaining Amusement that were also educational or lesson-oriented.

boardgame has tiles that are shaped like hexagon with the field of play a hexagon some tiles have tasks and career levels with the center being the goal is to be Head of Firm that featuresa an image of two men one seated in an office. There are four circles in the corners one with information about the game the other features images of office work; bottom right a boy approaches a man at a desk carrying mail, upper right one is a young man working as a shipping clerk in a office, and upper left two men one seated examining good the other is a traveling salesman
The Parker Brothers board game Office Boy (Library of Congress)

Like many games, Office Boy was a very goal-oriented game. Players started at the tile that says, “Apply for Situation as Office Boy”, and progressed through various trials, tribulations, new jobs, and tasks while working toward the center of the board where the winner became “Head of the Firm.” Success in the board game was designed to mimic things that looked like success in business.

When I did see discussion about the game, the name Horatio Alger was often mentioned. While he didn’t have a direct connection to the game itself, his books and this game do seem to be targeted at the same audience. One of his earliest and most successful books, Ragged Dick or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-blacks, became the Ragged Dick series, which included: Fame and Fortune or, The Progress of Richard Hunter; Rough and Ready or, Life Among the New York Newsboys; and Ben The Luggage Boy or, Among the Wharves. He also wrote the Tattered Tom and Luck & Pluck series, only a few of which are listed below:

  • Slow and Sure; The Story of Paul Hoffman the Young Street-Merchant
  • Strive and Succeed; or, The Progress of Walter Conrad
  • Risen from the Ranks; or, Harry Walton’s Success
  • Seeking His Fortune, And Other Dialogues
  • Making his way, or, Frank Courtney’s struggle upward
  • The Telegraph Boy
  • The Train Boy
  • Frank Fowler, the Cash Boy
  • Number 91; or, The Adventures of a New York Telegraph Boy
  • The Errand Boy; or, How Phil Brent Won Success
  • Tom Temple’s Career
  • Tom Thatcher’s Fortune
  • Luke Walton; or, The Chicago Newsboy
  • Victor Vane, The Young Secretary
  • The Young Salesman
  • The Young Bank Messenger
  • The Western Boy, or, The Road to Success

While this isn’t a full list of his works, are you sensing a theme? Boy makes good; Boy rises from misfortune; Boy works to make a living. Striving and success were a theme for Alger, but he wasn’t alone. He seems to have tapped into something in the American conscience. The “self-help” genre has long been popular in America–I even wrote a post in 2015 touching on this very topic–and book bestseller lists are testament to the popularity of the genre. Office Boy fits right in.

Board games are an enduring source of entertainment. Several of them, like Monopoly and Life (originally Checkered Game of Life), might have been found on the same shelf as Office Boy.

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Comments (5)

  1. Great post, Ellen!

  2. I love this post. I find a wonderful lesson for teachers to use this source as a springboard in learning about different jobs. I would have students create their own “Office Boy” game in the profession of their choice. Thanks for the insight!

    • The language/titles may need to be adjusted for the 21st century, but this is a great idea.

  3. Hi! I’m a historian and I’m writing about office boys right now. There was a serialized Alger tale, Silas Snobden’s Office Boy (1880-1890), that appeared in a boy’s magazine right before this awesome board game appeared (I too just saw it this year at LOC). Office boys were apprentices and they could rise to the top, but this was the last generation. By 1900, it was a dead-end job. Even nepo babies needed high school, if not college. I love the Hines photo! Thanks for the post.

    • I left a lot of titles off the Alger list just so it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the post! LC has a lot of photos if you need them for whatever you are writing……

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