The Real Reason the Board Game Candy Land Was Invented

If you were a child at some point in the past 70 years, odds are you played the board game Candy Land. According to toy historians, a staggering 94% of mothers are aware of Candy Land, and more than 60% of households with a 5-year-old own a set. The game was invented by Eleanor Abbott, a teacher in a polio ward during the epidemic of the 1940s and 1950s. Poliomyelitis — better known as Polio — strikes victims suddenly, and most are children. The virus targets the nerve cells in the spinal cord, inhibiting the body’s control over its muscles. This leads to muscle weakness, decay, and fatality in extreme cases. The leg muscles are the most common sites of polio damage, along with the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. Treatment typically involves physical therapy to stimulate muscle development, followed by braces to ensure that the affected parts of the body retain their shape. The outbreak had forced children into extremely restrictive environments. Patients were confined by equipment, and parents kept healthy children inside for fear they might catch the disease. Abbott’s game originally taught children who were immobilized and separated from their families to envision a world beyond the polio ward, where opportunities for growth and adventure could still materialize. Today, it teaches children that all situations have their alternatives. As it has done for generations, Candy Land continues to send young children on the first steps of that journey.