Atlantic City, New Jersey is a well known American tourist destination famous for its beaches, boardwalk, casino gambling, ocean views, shopping, and for being the inspiration for the Parker Brothers board game Monopoly. Technically an island city (located on Absecon Island in the Atlantic Ocean), the city proper claims a population of just under 37,000, although the entire Atlantic City metropolitan area can claim just about 267,000 in population.
Why such a big reputation for such a small area?
Atlantic City's location cemented its identity as a resort town from its founding. Atlantic City is located snug up against the Atlantic Ocean between marshlands and island chains. This is prime beach real estate, a fact that has been taken advantage of since the middle 19th century.
Known for its entire existence as a resort town, Atlantic City's proximity to major urban areas, most notably Philadelphia, helped cement its "resort" identity -- it is a perfect beachside getaway for city dwellers bored of their concrete landscape.
Atlantic City & "The Boardwalk"
The famous boardwalk (represented in the game Monopoly by one of the priciest bits of real estate) was started as a way to keep sand out of the beachside hotel lobbies. Once hoteliers realized how popular the boardwalk was, its length was extended considerably, and historically reached a length of over seven miles. A hurricane did away with much of this original boardwalk, and it exists today at a much shortened 4 miles.
Still, the boardwalk is one of the most popular spots in the city, and it's perhaps the most famous boardwalk in America. When you take into account the boardwalk in neighboring Ventnor, New Jersey, this is the longest boardwalk in the world.
Atlantic City - Monopoly Houses & Monopoly Hotels
Just like in the Monopoly game, Atlantic City was hit with an onslaught of hotel and house construction during its boom period. Between 1903 and 1940, hundreds of hotels both large and small sprang up around the boardwalk area, and tourists filled them with an amazing regularity. Atlantic City was a playground for both wealthy and average citizens, boasting beautiful beaches, state of the art hotels, and of course the world famous boardwalk.
It was only after more Americans began to own automobiles that Atlantic City's boom met its inevitable bust. During the time of train travel, tourists would stay for extended periods, as traveling by train was not exactly convenient. When tourists came in their own cars, they came and went easier and more often, shortening their stays to just a few days rather than a week. People stopped coming to the beach for long periods of time and moved instead to the suburbs, where they had their own swimming pools. Atlantic City was in decline.
Atlantic City is known for more than boardwalks and board games -- the 1964 Democratic National Convention was held here, an honor usually reserved for cities with much greater population and esteem. This is due in part to the fact that Atlantic City boomed in the early 20th century as a tourist destination, and major hotels sprung up all along the boardwalk. As a tourist haven, the city was capable of handling the heavy Convention traffic.
There's a rumor that Lyndon Johnson was big pals with New Jersey's governor and therefore had some say in where the convention would be held, but this is unsubstantiated. The Convention nominated Johnson and Humphrey, who won the election in a near landslide.
Atlantic City Facts
Other quirky facts about Atlantic City -- one of the first uses of reinforced concrete was in the Blenheim hotel, constructed in Atlantic City in 1903. Atlantic City is also home to New Jersey's first "wind farm" -- turbines powered by wind which supply between 7 and 8 megawatts of sustainable power.
Gambling was legalized in Atlantic City in 1976 in an effort to attract more visitors and money to Atlantic City, which had fallen into disrepair after the middle 20th century and began to attract a criminal element. It is difficult to see how legalized gambling would "clean up" a city, but New Jersey voters believed it would work and it seems to have been a success. After Las Vegas, Atlantic City is one of the best known gambling areas in the country.
In the 1970s and 1980s, some say that Atlantic City was more popular than Vegas, as the image of Las Vegas changed from a happy go lucky tourist town to a crime infested dirty city rife with organized crime. This opinion has changed, and many think Vegas is back on top.
Monopoly and Atlantic City
Atlantic City became the inspiration for game inventor Charles Darrow's "Monopoly" game because of his fondness for childhood vacations spent in the beachside city. Darrow was an unemployed Philadelphian at the time of the game's invention, and most of the "real estate" for sale in the game is based on actual streets in Atlantic City -- with one famous exception.
"Marvin Gardens" in the game is a misspelling of "Marven Gardens", a suburb of Atlantic City. "Marven" gets its name as a hybrid of "MARgate City" and "VENtnor City", and is not just an odd spelling of the popular male name "Marvin". Hasbro, the game's current owner, made an official apology to residents of Marven Gardens, perhaps as a publicity move, in the middle 1990s. While Charles Darrow cannot be given full credit for inventing the game (which is a ripoff of an earlier economy-lesson game called The Landlord's Game), he is a kind of folk hero to many -- an everyman who created what is now the world's most popular game.
The city's use in the Monopoly game have given the city its nickname -- "Monopoly City" -- and brought extra attention to this popular vacation destination. Landmarks, photos, and plaques around the city are dedicated to the game and its "inventor" Charles Darrow. The city gladly embraces its Monopoly heritage, and perhaps some tourists include Atlantic City on their trips simply because of the Monopoly connection. Unfortunately for Atlantic City, new versions of the game have completely abandoned this beachside town.
The Monopoly: Here and Now game includes cities from all over the world, but not Atlantic City. Hasbro's concentration on multiculturalism and global pursuits have left this New Jersey town out of its rightful position as the home of Monopoly, however the history of the game still exists, as does the playful spirit of Atlantic City. In fact, a recent edition of the game (known as the Mega Edition) appeared -- 50% larger and featuring eight additional authentic Atlantic City streets -- maybe all is not lost for Atlantic City. Besides, Americans looking for a gambling destination on the east coast, or without the glitz and bad reputation of Las Vegas, will still flock to Atlantic City, for gaming and for the natural beauty of the Atlantic coast.