The iron, along with the thimble and the other original Monopoly tokens originated with, of all things, a trade magazine for the laundry business.
FORTUNE — Few Monopoly players choose the iron. I always did. Maybe it was a bid to stand out in my large family. But I was an exception, and the iron never did find wide favor outside we few contrarians. Now the iron is being tossed onto the scrapheap of history: Following a Facebook vote among Monopoly players, the iron will no longer be included in Monopoly games, to be replaced by…a cat.
Which is too bad, even if you like cats and think they deserve equal time with Scottie dogs, another game token, along with the top hat, the racecar, the wheelbarrow, etc. The iron was among the first game tokens Monopoly included in its board game, starting in 1935. (Perhaps a cat is a fitting emblem for the Internet age.)
It always seemed a little odd, that tiny iron, even among the other endearingly odd tokens like the thimble and the shoe. How it got there is also a bit odd. As recounted in Neil Steinberg’s recent book,
You Were Never in Chicago
, the original tokens, including the iron, came from, of all things, the publisher of a trade magazine, the
National Laundry Journal
The magazine’s publisher was one of the first to use the new Linotype machines that were displayed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The machine revolutionized the publishing industry, but the magazine’s owners, the Dowst brothers, saw another use: they started using the hot lead produced by the machine to make buttons and other items that owners of laundry services could use. “One way laundries attracted customers was by appealing to their children,” Steinberg writes, “the same way fast-food chains attract kids today by giving them toys with their meals.”
Many of the trinkets were laundry and clothing themed. Hence the thimble, and the iron, which was made especially for the Flat Iron Laundry.
The magazine eventually folded, and the Dowsts concentrated on dollhouse furniture, charm bracelets and other tiny items for kids such as die-cast cars and—still—that flat iron. Meanwhile, another Chicago company, Cosmo Manufacturing, began supplying tiny metal toys to include as “prizes” in boxes of Cracker Jack. Cosmo ultimately purchased the Dowsts’ business.
Originally, Parker Brothers didn’t include tokens in Monopoly, and players were left to use buttons, coins, or, often, Cracker Jack prizes. When Parker Brothers decided to supply its own tokens, it contracted Cosmo, which simply used many of the items it was already manufacturing, including the race car, the top hat, and the iron.
The stalwart little iron survived it all, but it couldn’t survive the age of Facebook.