Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles How did Ouija become so... overrated? It was gonna spell "Overrated". Ouija is not overrated just because the board's powers aren't real. We know it's powered by the psychological ideomotor effect — a type of subconscious movement that guides the responses. But that doesn't explain why this kinda crappy board is such a big part of our lives and why Ouija and Ouija ripoffs are what you see over and over again in TV and movies. Really. Bad. Movies. “I found a Ouija board here. We're gonna play it tonight.” OK, but the real shock is that this piece of cardboard has a story that spans two centuries and actually says something about our history and our culture. “There is no Death! What seems so is transition; this life of mortal breath Is but a suburb of the Life Elysian Whose portal we call Death.” That's from Longfellow. The same legendary poet who wrote about the midnight ride of Paul Revere. In the 1800s, spiritualism and Americanism were intertwined in weird ways. Though what we call spiritualism started in the early to mid 1800s in Europe — seances, ghost stuff, etc — it really picked up in the US in the 1850s and 1860s. The Civil War caused around a million casualties. But more broadly, death was a constant. This chart shows life expectancy from 1850 to 1910. That jump in the chart? That's from 40 to just 50 years old. One response to that presence of death? Hundreds of spiritualism newspapers like Banner of Light. It even had a column filled with messages that claimed to be from the spirit world beyond. Ooh, this guy says he was a rumseller. That sounds fun. This spiritual fixation endured. That Longfellow poem was the epigraph to a hit book in 1891 - the bestselling “There Is No Death.” So where does Ouija fit in? For that, you have to go to the patent office. These are all talking board patents from the 1890s and 1900s. Oh, this one was French. This patent from 1891 is the direct ancestor to Ouija. Fittingly, the game has a murky origin, but Americans Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard were behind this version. It has all of the ingredients: the board with Yes and No, and a planchette - that's the name for the pointy thing that picks your letters. There are theories about the name — some say it was for the novelist Ouida — that's O-U-I-D-A. Others claimed the board itself spelled its own name. But the most likely explanation is that it was Egyptian sounding, since that's how it was marketed and explained on that first patent. The next year, entrepreneur William Fuld patented his own talking board. But Ouija was the brand that took off - so Fuld and company bought it. The spirits pointed to profit. He fended off tons of competitors — including his own family members — and built a name. He had legal backing, like this 1915 patent, as Ouija took off. The spirit world finally had what had eluded it in life: a solid brand identity. When the Washington Times did a puff article on mental trouble in DC, they didn't mention “talking boards” - they mentioned “Ouija". When Pearl Curran claimed to have written novels by channeling her Ouija board — Wait. What? Yeah, that's what it says. Alright — She wrote under the name of the spirit she allegedly contacted — Patience Worth. She used Ouija. This brand kept Ouija going through the 20th century, along with Fuld's legal maintenance. The spirit world went corporate, further merging pop culture and the occult. AH! Today... Today, Ouija is a little horror, a little kitsch, and a little fun. There have been corporate shifts, but the board is a staple, which is a pretty impressive journey for a simple image and a piece of plastic. That journey was powered by the beliefs of people like Longfellow and the mysterious forces of the United States patent system. And we are being spoken to, in a way, by people from the past. Not through messages from the spirit realm, but through the history of a decorated piece of cardboard. Ouija might be overrated, and it's not real. But it might be saying something, too. There are many great Ouija stories out there. One of my favorites is that in 1921, William Fuld was forced to admit Ouija was a children's toy. The reason? Tax purposes.