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Topics in Chronicling America - The Ouija Board

Ouija is a talking board first manufactured in the Unites States in 1890. A talking board is a board printed with letters and numbers that uses a sliding pointer to spell out messages in a mysterious way, circa. 1850–present. The board that became Ouija was born in 1886 in Chestertown, Maryland and named in 1890 in Baltimore where it was first manufactured. Since Ouija’s inception newspapers reported on its use as a way to communicate with the dead, predict catastrophes, solve mysteries, even commit crimes. As Ouija's popularity grew in the wake of World World I, newspaper coverage spread about Pearl Curran, a St. Louis housewife who used Ouija to talk with the spirit of a 17th-century woman named Patience Worth. Mrs. Curran went on to publish Patience’s writings, many of which were met with critical acclaim. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.


A drawing of two women using the Ouija board.

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Important Dates:

  • 1890. While conducting a séance at the Langham Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, Elijah Bond, Charles Kennard, and Helen Peters ask the board they are developing what it wants to be called. It mysteriously answers “O-U-I-J-A”. When asked what the word means it responds with “G-O-O-D—L-U-C-K”. Bond and Kennard incorporate the Kennard Novelty Company and begin manufacturing the Ouija board in Baltimore.
  • 1891. William Fuld buys the rights to the game and records a patent.
  • 1901. The Ouija Novelty Company revokes the license to make Ouija from William Fuld's brother, Isaac, beginning a nineteen-year court battle. Isaac tries to continue making Ouija, but is stopped by a court order.
  • 1915. Pearl Curran, a St. Louis Missouri housewife, uses the board to contact Patience Worth, a 17th-cenury New England literary figure. She transcribes her writings and publishes several of her plays, poems, and short stories.
  • 1920. After nineteen years of legal wrangling, the courts confirm that only William Fuld has the right to manufacture Ouija boards. They rule against his brother Isaac, making him pay court costs.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] Ouija board, talking board, planchette, alphabet board, witch board, Patience Worth.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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  April 27, 2016
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