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July 3rd 1920
OUIJA, OUIJA, WHO'S GOT THE OUIJA?
Ouija fans will be on qui viva for the decision of the Federal judge who has been asked to say who is entitled to the profits from the enormous sale of ouija boards resulting from the present wide-spread interest in communications with the “other side.” The little talk-table has become a money-maker, and it seems that the Brothers Fuld, who are mainly interested in its manufacture, have fallen out over the patents covering the useful little medium between this world and the next. To a “single-track” mind the question quite naturally arises as to why they don;t just ask the ouija itself regarding the division of spoils. Wouldn't the Greeks have consulted the Delphic Oracle if they had fallen into a dispute about the said Oracle? Most assuredly they would. It doesn't look exactly right for the fraternal manufacturers to carry this difference of theirs into the courts. It seems to indicate a singular lack of confidence in the efficacy of their own product. We learn, however, that the apparent inconsistency may possibly be explained on the ground of precedent – a mighty useful thing in law not only to establish legal principles but to lay a foundation for future litigation. The ouija has been in court before over disputes pertaining to its origin and ownership. Its pedigree has, therefore, already been aired in numerous accounts, at least two of which have a bearing on the case of Fuld vs. Fuld, we are told. For the benefit of those interested in this momentous subject, Edgar Goodman in the New York World Magazine gives a brief outline of these two tales, from which we quote:
Col. Washington Bowie, who was a leading figure in the company that originally manufactured the ouija board, narrated, while testifying in the case of Fuld vs. Fuld, that in the early part of 1890 Mr. E. C. Reichie, a cabinetmaker of Chestertown, Kent County, Md., invented the ouija board. In that year spiritism was in the flush of its early glory, and tables rapped and pranced on every side. Mr Reichie, although not a spiritist, noticed sympathetically that a large table was a heavy thing for a frail spirit to juggle about. His meditations, attuned to cabinetmaking, took a practical form. He devised a little table – the ouija board.
The other legend relates that Mr. C. W. Kennard sat idly in the kitchen of his Maryland home. He had nothing to do, nothing to think about. In this blissful state he reached out and took his wife's breadboard and placed it on his lap, and then placed a saucer on the bread board. The saucer began to move, as though on its own volition. Mr. Kennard was amused, frightened, interested, impressed, inspired and delighted. He saw both spooks and commercial possibilities.
This was a momentous event in the history of this world and the other world too. A thousand oracles might have spoken; the greatest shades in Avernus might have loomed; the voice of Caesar might have discoursed upon the military and political value of the short Roman sword; Aristotle might have expounded philosophy; without working half the effect wrought by that talismanic phrase: commercial possibilities. The saucer on the bread board might have revealed the secret to human happiness, or of universal knowledge, or of good government, without recommending itself half so well as it did when it suggested the idea that it might be a good seller.
It is a fact that the ouija board, or similar device, was known even to the ancient Egyptians. But is is equally a fact that nobody previously to Mr. Kennard had envisaged its golden as well as ghostly properties. The Kennard Novelty Company was formed with the capital of $30,000, and it pushed its wares so well that soon the little talk-table, first known as the Witch Board, delivered its oracles in homes throughout the land.
One evening Kennard and a young lady were questioning a Witch Board. She asked: “Who are you, and what is your name?” The board spelled out the word OUIJA. Kennard was afterward told that ouija was an Egyptian word meaning “good luck.” However, it developed that the young lady was wearing a locket on which the word Ouija was engraved. This hints at the general explanation of the ouija – a word in the sitters mind – the fingers unconsciously spell it out. Others contend that ouija is a combination of of the French “oui” and German “ja.”
The Kennard Novelty did a big business. There was a split in the firm. Kennard broke with the partners he had taken, and established a firm of his own. He put out the Volo board, a species of Ouija. Col. Bowie, one of the partners, entered suit – the original company held the patents. The inventor was forced out of the talking board business.
Some time later William Fuld, a shop forman, took charge of the ouija business paying Col. Bowie a royalty. He associated his brother Isaac with him. They quarreled. Isaac Fuld established the Southern Novelty Company and placed the Oriole Talking Board on the market.
In 1915 William Fuld held the United States patent, two United States trademarks, three Canadian trademarks, a Canadian patent, and the copyright on the name ouija. The present vogue on the talk table has made these immensely valuable.