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An English Ouija Board

An English Ouija Board

It’s About How The Ouija Board Got A U.S. Patent

Of course there are thousands of strange tales concerning secrets, disclosures, and accurate predictions revealed during sessions with Ouija boards. But according to Ouija board historian Robert Murch, perhaps none has ever been stranger—or at least, more consequential—than an 1891 Ouija seance that took place at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.

In an interview with Smithsonian, Murch said that shortly after deciding to manufacture Ouija boards in the early 1890s, the game’s original investors found themselves in something of a bind. In order to stave off competition from Ouija board imitators, their company badly needed a U.S. patent on the product. However, in order to qualify for a patent, a “device” needed to be proven to work . . . and proving that Ouija “worked” in any practical sense seemed impossibly problematic.

Nonetheless, Ouija board in hand, a couple of the investors made the trip from Baltimore to Washington—where, predictably, the chief patent officer demanded a demonstration. He asked that the board accurately spell his name, which supposedly was unknown to the investors.

However, the Ouija board did spell the man’s name, and even spelled it correctly. The investors later said the patent officer seemed startled, even somewhat shaken. And so the patent was approved.

To this day, it is not known whether this crucial Ouija board success can be attributed to spirits, to the patent officer’s unconscious spelling of his own name during the Ouija seance in which he participated—or to the fact that one of the Ouija investors was a patent attorney, and actually may have known the patent official’s name.

Whatever the truth, this is certainly one of the oddest Ouija stories, if not one of the scariest.

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