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The Ouija Board
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Detailed History of William Fuld and the Ouija Board
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With those early victories for the Ouija Novelty Company, the message was clear. People would fight over the Ouija board for years to come and many would attempt to lay claim to it. Competition was fierce, and with the Ouija board's success came more controversy. Countless other talking boards, some even marketed by its original founders would try to recreate that success.
William Fuld’s first talking board trademark Oracle (No. 37,806) was filed on January 22th 1902 and was granted on February 18th 1902. William Fuld’s first talking board patent (No. 479,266) was filed on March 28th 1892 and granted on July 19th 1892. This patent made improvements upon the “finger” or moveable piece of the talking board. His drawings also offer a strange new layout to the board itself as well as directions which mention this board asks you questions back. This is the only talking board found to date to integrate the use of magnetism, which was popular at the time for fostering spirit communications.
In 1894, with Col. Washington Bowie maintaining control of the company and Fuld and Rusk at his side, Ouija boards began to turn out in greater numbers. The company was moved to 20 North High Street to handle greater production.
By 1898, Bowie’s life was getting full. Acting as Surveyor of Customs and running The Ouija Novelty Company proved to be too great of a split. On April 12, 1898, The Ouija Novelty Company assigned its assets, including Elijah Bond's Ouija patent, to Harry Welles Rusk and Bowie in the following proportions: 1/6 to Rusk and 5/6 to Bowie. Rusk in turn would sell his remaining 1/6 assets to Bowie in 1902, giving Bowie complete ownership of the Ouija trademark and patent. These assignments are recorded in the Trademark and Patent Office in Washington D.C. Though Bowie would turn over production of Ouija boards to William Fuld, he wouldn’t officially assign over the rights until 1919.
With Rusk and Bowie taking an enormous step into the background, William Fuld was in need of a full-time partner. Fuld himself was a customs inspector, and knew he couldn’t commit all his time to his toy business. Isaac Fuld & Brother began with a verbal agreement in November of 1897 between William and his brother Isaac Fuld. On July 18th 1898 the Ouija Novelty Company signed an agreement with William and Isaac, trading as Isaac Fuld & Brother to manufacture and sell Ouija boards for the term of three years. William and Isaac used this agreement to make Ouija boards and other novelties. In 1899, the two expanded their agreement to include payments to Isaac for extra labor. They used the same location of 20 North High Street to run their business and continued to pay royalties to both Harry Welles Rusk and Col. Washington Bowie.
On March 28th 1900 the brothers reworked their partnership again. It stated, “This is to certify that Wm. Fuld and Isaac Fuld (Both of Baltimore City) have this day entered into a partnership, in the manufacture and sale of games etc. known as Ouija, U.C. Billies Return Pool & U.C. Billies Calculator etc. That they have agreed to do business on equal profits except that in addition to the above, Wm. Fuld shall receive ten cents per Dozen royalty on the Return Pool & ten cents per dozen on the Calculator. And for this consideration he shall let remain in the business the sum of five hundred dollars, to be used in defraying expenses for the material, in the manufacture of the said games.”
Unfortunately, the business and their relationship did not last. On July 18th 1901 William and the Ouija Novelty Company exercised their option not to continue their agreement allowing Isaac Fuld and Brother to manufacture and sell Ouija boards. The Ouija Novelty Company then signed a new agreement exclusively with William Fuld. Whether William and Isaac had a falling out that led to this decision, or that act itself caused their bad feelings it would result in a family feud that would last almost a century.
William founded his own company named the William Fuld Manufacturing Company and moved its headquarters to his home at 1208 Federal Street. Isaac continued making Ouija boards and put his name and address on its box as well as on the back of the board. In December of 1901 William took his brother Isaac to court and promptly received an injunction against Isaac prohibiting him from making Ouija boards and any other patented game William owned. Isaac and William never spoke with one another again, except in court. Col. Washington Bowie employed his son, Washington Bowie Jr., to represent William Fuld in court against his brother.
The brothers would go to court twice. The first time William filed suit against Isaac and the second time Isaac Fuld, trading as the Southern Toy Company, filed suit against William in 1919. This reopened the original 1901 case. In this first case William Fuld petitioned the court to force Isaac to hand over the books and records of the former partnership to figure out how to distribute any remaining money. William asked for and received an injunction that would stop Isaac from manufacturing any games in which William either owned patents and trademarks on or leased them including the Ouija board. Washington Bowie Jr. was named as the receiver for the said books, and any profit the company made. The case quickly got nasty. Col. Washington Bowie and William held and opened mail addressed to Isaac at the 20 North High Street address. Their defense was that it was business mail and since he was no longer part of the business, the mail was not his. Sibling rivalry had been taken to a whole new level.
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