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Ouija Board: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1890, the Ouija board was created for supernatural communication. It was also the focus of several lawsuits. This guide provides access to materials related to the "Ouija Board" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"The typical ouija board." November 23, 1919. New-York Tribune (New York, NY), Image 71. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

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. 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 in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

1890 Elijah Bond and Charles Kenner begin manufacturing Ouija boards in Baltimore after reportedly holding a seance with Helen Peters.
1891 William Fuld buys the rights to the game and records a patent.
1901 Fuld's brother Isaac has his license revoked by Ouija Novelty; he tries to keep making the game but is blocked by a judge.
1915 Pearl Curran claims to have made contact with a 17th century author whom she names Patience Worth; she begins publishing written work.
1920 After a 19-year court battle, courts declare only William Fuld can manufacture boards; Issac is ordered to pay court costs.