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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 his brother’s court battles behind him, William Fuld never looked back. He retired from his customs position in 1924 after twenty-eight years of service to dedicate more of his time to the Ouija board and would later serve in the General Assembly keeping his political ties close. In an interview with a Baltimore Sun reporter on July 4th 1920, William claimed to have made about three million dollars of total profits from the Ouija board.
Washington Bowie Jr. served as William’s attorney in every case involving the Ouija board. Washington Bowie Jr.’s son, Washington Bowie V, remembers his father sitting the children down and giving them toy catalogs to browse through. They were asked to circle any talking board ad that might have infringed on William Fuld’s patents and trademark. There were of course many, and Bowie Jr. aggressively pursued any infringement. He recalls that his father never accepted any payment for his services.
In 1920, another talking board company came into the legal spotlight. The Baltimore Talking Board Company, located at 36-38 South Paca Street, was run by two gentlemen by the names of Charles Cahn and Gilbert Michael. They had absolutely no connection with William Fuld or his business, but they must have leased the right to call their boards Ouija boards. The Internal Revenue Service collected a tax on their Ouija boards in 1920. The Baltimore Talking Board Company did not believe the Ouija board to be a game or sporting good, and thus should not be taxed as such. They took the IRS to court and mysteriously, Washington Bowie Jr. represented them in court. They lost, and Ouija boards were considered taxable. They appealed this ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Disappointingly, the Supreme Court threw the case out without being heard and thus talking boards are taxable to this day.
From 1919 to 1927, William filed more patents and trademarks on his talking boards. He extended his Oracle trademark (No. 130,142) to the Mystifying Oracle in 1919. This second line of talking boards was introduced to combat the growing number of knock-off boards entering the market. William knew that if he made a cheaper version he would get their business. He was right. He also launched a line of trademarked Ouija jewelry (No. 140,126) and Ouija Oil for rheumatism (No. 143,008.) The Ouija board became trademarked as the Egyptian Luck board (No. 148,331), and the Mystifying Oracle became trademarked as the Hindu Luck board (No. 137,521.) Fearing an infringement on the pronunciation of Ouija, William also filed for a trademark on WE-JA (No.142,00.) His last trademark (No. 164,563) to be filed would be on the way the word Ouija would be displayed.
Disaster struck the Fuld family on February 24th 1927. William always supervised any work on his factory. When a flagpole at 1508-1514 Harford Avenue needed to be repaired atop the three-story building, William followed. When the iron support he was leaning on ripped out of its mooring he fell backwards over the back of the building. He caught himself briefly on one of the factory windows, but the force of the fall slammed the window shut, and he was thrown to the ground. Initially suffering minor broken bones and a concussion, William received his fatal injury while being transported. One of his broken ribs pierced his heart, and he died at the hospital.
William’s children took over the company. Katherine Bowie and William Andrew Fuld ran the company until their youngest brother, Hubert Fuld, became president of William Fuld Inc. in 1942. William Andrew would devise a new talking board and apply for a patent on his electrically equipped Mystifying Oracle (No. 1.870,677) on June 6th 1930 which was granted on April 9th 1932. He applied for a trademark on this electric version of the Mystifying Oracle (No. 305,398) which was registered August 15th 1933. This invention could have revolutionized talking boards, but that was not its fate. It was made of metal and cost roughly three times the regular Ouija board. The moveable planchette would spark light as its connectors made contact and rolled across the board. The Great Depression did not allow people to spend money frivolously, and the Electric Mystifying Oracle did not sell well. After a year of slow sales, the project was scrapped and the boards were melted down.
The talking board industry saw a renewed interest in the 1940s. To prepare for this William Andrew would file for a design patent (No. 114,534) that was registered on May 2nd 1939 for what we currently recognize as the Ouija board. Many companies introduced their own talking boards. Though the layout was similar, many offered extravagant colors and graphics. Eventually, out of disinterest or a declining market, all of these companies folded to the Fulds.
The Fulds relocated two additional times before occupying their final offices. From 1950-1961 the Fulds would rent space on 2511 North Charles Street and Warwick Avenue respectively. In 1962 construction was completed on their final address of 1318 Fort Avenue.
William’s heirs continued renewing their trademarks and followed sales up and down over the years until one fateful day. Ouija board sales were again climbing and the Fulds were made an offer they couldn’t refuse. President Robert Barton of Parker Brothers announced that it had acquired William Fuld Inc. and all its assets on February 24th 1966, effectively ending the Fulds association with the Ouija board. Hasbro Inc. currently owns the trademarks Ouija and Mystifying Oracle.
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