The Ouija board has inspired both mystical wonder and fear since its creation in 1890. This seemingly simple board game continues to attract attention and speculation over 130 years later. Where did this tool for talking to spirits originate? Why is it still so popular and controversial today?

Inventing the Talking Board

In 1886, the fledgling Associated Press reported on a new phenomenon sweeping Ohio – talking boards. Various talking boards and planchettes were already being manufactured to capitalize on growing interest in Spiritualism. The article referenced boards that could “answer questions by denoting the letters of the alphabet” when fingers lightly touched the surface. 

This report caught the attention of Charles Kennard. A businessman from Chestertown, Maryland, Kennard sensed opportunity. Just four years later, along with investor Elijah Bond, Kennard set up the Kennard Novelty Company. They began producing an official talking board called the Ouija board. The name “Ouija” supposedly came from the board itself, claiming it meant “good luck” in ancient Egyptian. In actuality, Elijah Bond’s sister-in-law Helen Peters, one of the company’s first employees, admitted she mixed together parts of the French and German words for “yes” to create something that “sounded exotic.”

Early Commercial Success 

The Kennard Novelty Company advertised the Ouija board as both mystical oracle connecting to the spirit world and entertaining family pastime. Helen Peters proved crucial in marketing the board, relaying messages to be printed in ads as well as demonstrating its supposed powers to curious buyers. This strategy quickly caught public attention and the company could barely keep up with demand.

William Fuld, an employee turned stakeholder, pushed the company to ramp up production. But eventually disagreements led the founder Kennard to sell his remaining shares to Fuld in 1892. Fuld took over manufacturing and grew the business exponentially, turning Ouija into a household name over the next couple decades. Some of Fuld’s marketing tactics bordered on dangerous, such as encouraging people to use the board alone or teaching children how to get spirit communications.

Mainstream Controversies 

As popular interest increased, so did general distrust of the Ouija among religious groups and scientists. Fuld frequently had to defend himself against accusations of enabling contact with malevolent spirits or non-Christian beliefs. Others deemed users delusional, attributing movements on the board to involuntary muscle movements rather than paranormal entities. Talk of making Ouija board usage illegal even popped up occasionally.

Yet success continued. Fuld innovated the game board’s design and acquired dozens of trademarks. He opened more factories and had Ouija boards translated into over a dozen languages. Some estimates report over two million boards sold by the 1960s.

Tragically, Fuld sustained a fatal injury in 1927 at his New Jersey factory. Ironically, he was surveying damage from a misplaced Ouija board when attempting to move materials off a flagged roof area. Fuld leaned too far and fell through a skylight to the marble floor below. 

The Ouija Empire Today

Despite Fuld’s sudden death, the Ouija remained popular through ups and downs over subsequent decades. The Fuld family lost ownership after major financial losses during World War II. Today Hasbro maintains rights after acquiring Parker Brothers games in 1991. Ouija boards and affiliated media pop up across genres like movies, TV shows, books, music and more. 

While many scoff, modern science has tried understanding why some users insist boards work, even when blindfolded. One neuroimaging study revealed different mental states during Ouija use correlating with part of the brain tied to spatial reasoning. This suggests some participants at least believe their hands are simply following the planchette’s movements. Another analysis reported Ouija findings aligned closely with common psychological concepts like expectation, sensory ambiguity, ideomotor effect and conformity among groups. 

Yet personal accounts of inexplicable Ouija phenomena persist everywhere. Both mystical and rational camps maintain adamant supporters arguing about the board’s merits, dangers or true capabilities. 

Enduring Mystique 

The story of the Ouija board intertwines fascinating history, culture, science, religion and business. Since its patenting 135 years ago, generations continue feeling intrigued, mystified and sometimes afraid when confronting this portal to spirits and the unknown. Whether deemed mystical oracle, harmless distraction or dangerous doorway, the Ouija has cemented an enduring, mysterious legacy spanning eras and cultures that shows no signs of vanishing.