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Ouija Board

Ouija board

People have attempted to communicate with the dead for hundreds of years. Some of them have used Ouija boards like this one.

During the 19th century, many Americans turned to a religious movement known as spiritualism for evidence of an afterlife. Believing that the dead could help the living, Spiritualists tried to contact spirits through mediums--that is, people who received messages from spirits. Mediums held séances at which they fell into trances that allowed them to "channel" spirits, the purpose being communication between the dead and the living. Spiritualism was so popular that many mediums were celebrities and séances became social events.

Talking Boards

The development of "talking boards," though, essentially bypassed mediums by allowing anyone to attempt communication with spirits. People using these boards touched sliding or pivoting pointers which "talked" for the spirit by pointing to letters, numbers, or symbols printed on the surface. Talking boards took the place of mediums by allowing the board (rather than a human being) to give voice to spirits.

Ouija is the brand name of one type of talking board patented in 1891. Charles Kennard's company was the first to market it. Kennard said the board directed him to use the name "Ouija," which he incorrectly claimed was Egyptian for "good luck." In 1901, a former company employee named William Fuld conducted a takeover and replaced Kennard as president. Fuld convinced the public that he was Ouija's original inventor. In addition to operating the novelty company, Fuld also worked as a customs inspector and served in the Baltimore General Assembly. He credited his success to reading the Ouija board.

Clarence and Carrie Pennock and their children, 1910

Fuld's death in 1927 occurred under curious circumstances. While supervising the installation of a flagpole on the roof of his building, Fuld fell for no apparent reason. He caught himself briefly on a window, but the window slammed shut and Fuld continued to fall. Though he had suffered only broken bones and a concussion, a fatal injury was delivered during transportation when a broken rib pierced Fuld's heart.

The Ouija board was marketed as a novelty and often played by children. The board pictured here belonged to the offspring of Clarence Pennock, Wichita (photo of Clarence and Carrie Pennock and their children, 1910). The children's names are inscribed on the back. This 1902 design was the first produced after Fuld's takeover of the Ouija company. Fuld's descendents eventually sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1966.

One of the Pennock siblings donated this Ouija board to the Kansas Historical Society in 1955. It is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Ouija Folklore:

  • Never play alone
  • Never ask about God
  • Never ask when you are going to die
  • The first Ouija boards were made from the wood of coffins
  • An Ouija board will scream if burned
  • Those who hear the scream have 36 hours to live

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Entry: Ouija Board

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2005

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.