Originally known as the "talking board" in the late 1800's, what we now know as the "Ouija Board" has become an American Culture classic that remains a top seller on store shelves today. Not much has changed from its original packaging and material and the game still includes: a board consisting of the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0-9, a "yes" located beneath a sun on the top left of the board, a "no" beneath a moon on the top right and the word "goodbye" placed at the bottom middle beneath the alphabet, a "planchette" which is a tear shaped device with a peephole to reveal each letter as it moves across the board. The concept was that two players would sit opposite each other on each side of the board, propose a question while resting their fingers on the planchette that would eventually disclose the answer.
The spiritualist movement that predominately took place in the 1880's had many people using "talking boards" as a means to communicate with the dead. Use of the boards was sweeping spiritualist camps in Ohio in 1886. It wasn't until 1890 when businessman Elijah Wood finally patented the game to be sold in stores. His employee William Fuld who would eventually take over the company named it "Ouija"; the origin being an Egyptian word that means good luck.
Sold first in a tiny toyshop located in Pittsburgh, Tennessee in the winter of 1891 was the Ouija Board; a game of mystery. Advertisements boasted of its mysterious ability to get in touch “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial” and it’s whopping $1.50 price tag. Before its initial release, the game had to have proof of actually working before it would pass through The Patent Office. As history will tell us, the game was approved. The sales of the game would sky rocket between the 1920's-1960's, always seeing an influx of sales during war. The Ouija Board was mostly sold to those who sought peace and communication after losing loved ones at war, women who died during childbirth, or children that died from a fatal disease.
The Ouija Board would be deemed pseudoscience by scientists and considered to be a result of ideomotor response; "a psychological phenomenon where subjects make motions unconsciously." In various lab studies, it would be proven that subjects would be involuntarily moving the planchette. According to Professor of neurology Terence Hines in his book Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (2003):
The planchette is guided by unconscious muscular exertions like those responsible for table movement. Nonetheless, in both cases, the illusion that the object (table or planchette) is moving under its own control is often extremely powerful and sufficient to convince many people that spirits are truly at work... The unconscious muscle movements responsible for the moving tables and Ouija board phenomena seen at seances are examples of a class of phenomena due to what psychologists call a dissociative state. A dissociative state is one in which consciousness is somehow divided or cut off from some aspects of the individual's normal cognitive, motor, or sensory functions.
Throughout the Ouija Board's history, skeptics have determined the game to be a money making scam, it's been banned and burned in parts of the world and religious leaders have warned users they are communicating with demons. Despite its ridicule, the game remains a top seller on the shelves, a staple in horror films and literature, even outselling Monopoly during the 1960's. There's something to be said about a product that still remains unchanged for over 100 years.